Poems: Protection From Isolation and Solitary Confinement

Handwritten text of 'The Angel Face,' a short verse by writer Edgar Allan Poe, circa 1848. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At The American Poetry Review, Beth Ann Fennelly suggests that to fully embrace the beauty of poetry, one must memorize it. Once committed to memory — a process that gets easier with practice — a poem forever becomes prophylactic against stressful days and lonely times: “We’ve all known solitary confinement. We’ve all inhabited isolation rooms. But the poems we know by heart can visit us there. They arrive as layer cakes, with files baked in.”

No matter how intense reading a poem in a book can be, memorizing the poem makes it more visceral, more intense. Physically, we’re free of holding the book, turning the pages, and training our eyes along the line. We’ll avoid the minor but inevitable reading errors that impair or delay perfect comprehension. And when the reader has taken the poem so deeply into the body that it’s memorized, the words don’t need to be understood and processed before they can be reacted to; the gap between the words and emotions they elicit disappears.

It’s no strain to recall that reading poetry is an emotional and intellectual experience, but recitation reminds us that poetry, in some ways, is as physical as dancing. Through recitation, the body and soul are synchronized.

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