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Friday, 30 March 2007


A piece by Frieda Hughes in Monday's Times. Subject: Blakes poem, "The Tyger", taken from "By Heart, 101 Poems to Remember", edited and introduced by her late father, Ted Hughes, who, it seems, was a passionate advocate of memory excercises, not least among them the well-known technique of memorizing lists by attaching each item to an image, such that these that can then be linked to form a narrative.

Rhyme is also a useful aide-memoire, she points out, and recommends both playing her father's memory games and memorizing poems. By such means, she hopes, it might be possible to stave off the approach of Alzheimer's. It would be wonderful to think so, impossible to say she's wrong, and so maybe worth giving it a go.

She gives various other useful spin-offs that might be ours as a result of memorizing poems, the ability to recite them “hands-free” whilst doing other things, being one.
Some people, I know, recite memorized poems for stress-relief, to help them sleep, to defy the boredom of repetitive work, or simply for the pleasure they give.
Like many others, I am sure, I can still “rattle off” a great deal of verse which was required learning when I was at school - and quite a lot more that was not. Some of the required stuff, I would dearly love to be able to erase from my memory banks, but alas, that does not seem to be a possibility! Both the choice of poems, and what we were taught about them, left a lot to be desired, I fear.

Critics often bemoan the fact that children in school are no longer required to learn poetry by heart. That is, no doubt, a great loss, but I am comforted by the thought that they do get introduced to the work of living poets, whereas I, who was born just eleven years after Eliot wrote The Waste Land, went right through school (including grammar school) without knowing of his or its existence. It was not until I left school and went to art school that the world of contemporary (or near contemporary) poetry opened up for me. At school I was stuck with Lochinvar coming out of the west, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, and the journey of the good news from Ghent to Aixe. - Not quite true; we did “do” Homer!
It seems there has been both progress and regression.

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