Cartoonist Lynda Barry Reveals the Best Way to Memorize Poetry

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

Relat­ed Con­tent

Join Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry for a Uni­ver­si­ty-Lev­el Course on Doo­dling and Neu­ro­science

The Sec­ond Known Pho­to of Emi­ly Dick­in­son Emerges

Bill Mur­ray Reads Poet­ry at a Con­struc­tion Site

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