I’m learning I never get over the impact of a person sharing a poem from memory…
I’ve had my own practice of committing poetry to memory for years. And forgetful as I am, I believe it has a real value. But merely asserting this is one thing. It is something altogether more powerful to witness. A poem drawn from within a body, from a person’s secret store of memory.
Each poem that comes from the heart is different.
Each person and the reasons each of us holds a particular poem in our heart is different.
Often the poem is surprising. Often, in my classes, it is nestled in the memory of someone with significant memory loss. But there is this mystery that they still remember this poem in a way they can share.
Often memory loss is not the only challenge the poem-holder copes with. Often it is the person who seems most cut off—Struggling with memory. Struggling with hearing. Struggling with eyesight—even the 24 point font eluding capture and interpretation. Struggling even to speak…So often lungs are no longer strong enough to push air past the vocal cords as well as they once did.
So often the poem comes out in a small voice.
Like the other day…I was leading a small group and had just shared Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers”
We were focusing on birds, both real and figurative. Bird poems always seem to get people going. The the conversation was swooping and fluttering.
And then, a few wisps of voice from a woman who’d been sitting, seeming shut down and withdrawn. But as if from a great distance we hear these words:
Emily Dickinson’s lines are rising from her throat.
Barely a whisper, but no less powerful for that.
The other voices and sounds fall away.
She says a few lines. And stops.
But we have stopped talking about birds and imagination and reality. We wait to hear more.
She starts again
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
and slow but sure recites the whole short poem.
I swear she glows when she is done.