For the human mind, the issue of memory is actually not just storage, but retrieval as well.
I’ve been wrestling with both storage and retrieval in the Known by Heart project. It sounded like a great idea at the time, create a bunch of poems designed to be memorized and present them from the heart. But as the day draws closer, I’m reminded of a few things about myself. Really, just one thing: How, as a middle-aged person with a fast-shrinking brain, am I supposed to get all this work stuffed in my head?
I started this project with some ideas about what makes poetry memorable. Memorizing the E.E. CUMMINGS, “as freedom is a breakfast food” (I think it’s officially known as 25 in his collection 50 Poems) I noticed how pattern and image make things memorable. For example, it’s hard to forget “as hatracks into peachtrees grow/or hopes dance best on bald men’s hair.” By contrast, I found more abstract lines in the poem, “as the impure think all things pure” hard to make stick in memory.
Pattern is another tool I noticed as I started memorizing other poet’s work. E.E. CUMMINGS’s “as freedom is a breakfast food” relies not only on image. It uses iambic lines, (lubdub, lubdub a pattern as familiar as a heartbeat). There’s also pattern in a repeated line revolving through the stanzas of the poem.
So these tools: image and pattern have helped. But I’ve been learning new tools as well that play on other aspects of how we remember. More on that soon.