Cartoonist and Patron Saint of Honoring the Creative Impulse, Lynda Barry, believes that the secret to understanding poetry is to commit it to memory. Effortless recall is key. Get that poem lodged inside your brain as if it were a Top 40 hit of your youth.
That’s all well and good, but is there a secret to memorizing poetry?
According to Barry (or Professor Chewbacca, as she is known to students in her Making Comics course at the University of Wisconsin), the secret to memorizing poetry is to set it to music.
The work of Emily Dickinson, a Barry favorite, is particularly well suited to this tactic, as this Internet-sourced “hillbilly rendition” of “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” proves.
As Barry demonstrates, above, the Belle of Amherst also lends herself well to “The Girl from Ipanema” and a certain movement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.
It does the soul good to see poetry offering this lady the sort of joyful release her dog experiences, rolling around in a dead squirrel.
Perhaps you, too, are in need of such an outlet. Odds are, we all are. Barry, who traces her passion for poetry to the 1974 anthology Mad Sad & Glad: Poems from Scholastic Creative Writing Awards, claims that the best poems deal with our darkest feelings. Dickinson, she posits, wrote what she did to stay alive, a theory she supports with a hilarious impersonation of Dickinson’s perceived handwriting versus Dickinson’s actual handwriting.
Dickinson wrote volumes, but as Barry points out, she also wrote short. Look at how many there are to choose from, were you to challenge yourself to learn one by heart today. (Don’t think about it. Just do it. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be a more gratifying experience than listening to the female robot charged with reciting “A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!” here.)
– Ayun Halliday believes that Lynda Barry has enough milk of human kindness & funk power supreme to be the Patron Saint of Everything. Follow her @AyunHalliday
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