Memory as revision

As I mentioned in my last post, I started this project with a few ideas about how to make poems memorable and easier to memorize. But in my work with theater coach Zaraawar Mistry* of Dreamland Arts I keep learning new things about poetry and memory

As a cognitive phenomenon, neuroscientists tell us that memory is a process of revision, that each time we access a memory, we change it. Memory of events is highly fallible, malleable and untrustworthy. One of my favorite examples of this is a friend, in her sixties, telling me that she and her siblings had recently each drawn a plan of their childhood home. They drew different sketches—not just details of where the door was, but rooms in different places.

 So, memory as revision, that should come as no surprise. But it’s been a surprise and delight to realize how the work of putting a poem into memory can be an excellent revision tool for a writer.  Something about this memory work reveals, with great clarity, a great deal about a poem.  Those words that seemed so perfect on the page suddenly lose their shine. But it’s not just that extraneous words and phrases don’t seem worth the work of remembering them.  Sometimes the memory work offers clarity about the whole poem—the flow and movement of the thing become clear. At leat that’s how it seems to me. I hope you’ll be able to come judge for yourself on May 9.

 *PS: Go see Mistry’s one-man show, The Other Mr. Gandhi, if you possibly can. It’s amazing, it’s at Dreamland Arts, and he’s added some performances in April. that’s all I’ll say about it.

1 comment
  1. MaryAnn Franta Moenck said:

    Lovely, Naomi!
    Thank you for these thoughts and the useful and ranging links, too.
    I look forward to the Known by Heart event.
    Cheers
    MaryAnn

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