Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Memorizing poems

At a meeting of my poetry workshop this week the subject of memorizing poems arose. The leader of the workshop asked if any of us wanted to recite poems we'd memorized. It was surprising how few of us had any committed to memory, though we were all quick to cite favorite poems and poets. My editor has a surefire technique for memorizing poems that involves writing them out repeatedly, line by line, accumulating lines after a certain number of times of writing each line or set of lines. He claims that you'll never forget a poem you once memorize this way.

I'm still working on Stanley Kunitz' "The Round," which I was only able to recite imperfectly, remembering later the lines I had omitted. Carrying a poem around in heart and mind is a special delight. Have you memorized any poems in your literary life? Any special quotes or pieces of prose? How did you do it? I'd love to hear about memorization techniques and how common or rare it is these days to memorize poems.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Airplane poems

I started a series of these awhile back, to keep myself from having hysterics on airplanes. They so don't like that these days. This is one of the first (first published in


Salvavida bajo su asiento.
It took me awhile to translate: lifesaver
under your seat. Under this fragile body
of lofting steel, our tennis rackets and rain
coats, our bathing suits, and below that,
turbulent pockets and updrafts.
And under that, what no lifesaver
can cushion. But in the air they soothe
in every tongue: salvavida
is below your asiento, and that’s all you need to know.
That, and at the press of a button, everything
in featherweights – the five-ounce can
of tomato juice at ninety-minute intervals,
two cookies and twenty chips, a pillow
small as a cloud measured with fingers
on the window. They float up the aisles
to keep you warm and half-asleep,
to make sure that salvavida is handy.
Someone like the mother you ought to have had,
who salvas your vida while it hurtles at five hundred per,
someone who says, in case you speak English –
and only up here: salvation is at hand.

Ever wonder where your time goes?

Thanks to Sherry Sheehan, I found this wonderful illustration in the comic strip Pearls Before Swine of the time-suck that is social networking and bloghopping. When I wind up at the end of a ten-hour day with two billable hours of work, I now know that this is what happened.

Adding to your Internet-induced ADD, here are some stops online you should check out:

Electric Literature -- a quarterly anthology of the best contemporary short fiction delivered in every viable format: eBook, audiobook, Kindle, iPhone, Paperback.

Poets for Living Waters -- poetry action in response to the Gulf Oil Disaster and a call for poems about the Gulf Coast.

Donors Choose -- donate to help out a classroom of your choice; a little or a lot, every dollar helps and goes right to a classroom in need (and aren't they all these days?).