What are the benefits of memorizing poetry?
How could memorizing your poetry change your spoken word performance?
I sometimes feel that audiences at slam poetry events penalize performers that read their work.
Either way audiences respond better to performers who can look them in the eye and make them feel as though they are talking to them individually.
I have seen the difference that memorizing poetry makes to my performance and wanted to share my tips:
1) Repeat your poetry out loud until you are sick of it
Okay, not so much until you are sick of it but, really, repeat your work to yourself until you remember it. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to performing.
My public speaking teacher used to say repetition is the secret to giving a great speech. He would say he wants us to become mumblers, meaning he wanted us to carry our speeches around and read them quietly wherever we were.
Start off by reading the whole poem and finding the rhythm and breaks (pauses) of the poems. See the imagery in your poem and see it unfolding in your mind. I tend to see each verse as pictures and this is how I remember my poetry.
Memorize the first stanza and then add one line at a time. I would encourage you to memorize each stanza on its own.
When you have committed the poem to memory recite it in front of a mirror and observe yourself and your body language.
You can also perform the same spoken word piece a few times at various slam contests and open mic sessions, until you perfect it.
The more you perform the poem the more likely you will be to remember it and the more confident you will become and the better your performance will get.
A word of warning: please do not keep performing the same poem over and over at every event. I have seen many poets do this and even though their performance is great, it does not allow them to show their versatility as poets.
2) Rewrite your poetry until it is embedded in your psyche
Whenever there is a poem I cannot remember (and I have many of these) I make myself sit down and rewrite the poem at least twice. This usually allows me to edit the poem so that it is more true to me.
I then take note of the verses that are difficult for me to remember and I memorize them on their own.
Writing is always a great way to remember anything, that’s why teachers made us all write: “I will not talk in class” 50 times, so we would remember it.
The other thing about rewriting a poem is that you get to see how the poem could have been written in a better way.
3) Visualize your story as you are saying it
It is easy to remember pictures. If you have written a poem about your ex boyfriend, visualize yourself telling him the words you have written.
If you have written a story about an event in your past, relive it and see it as you are reciting the poem or story. This actually allows you to be in the moment and to feel your emotions which makes for a better performance.
Memorizing poetry may seem like a lot of work but it is worth taking a few minutes every day to practice your work and your performance.