How to Memorize a Poem
At the USA Memory Championship there is an event where you see who can memorize the most words from a poem in 15 minutes. Currently a high school student holds this record, Michael Glantz. He memorized 237 consecutive words (including punctuation) in only 15 minutes. That is a truly remarkable score. Here is a video I created on how to memorize a poem
Now what is his memory training strategy and the strategy of most who do well in this event? First of all, I will confess it is different than my how to memorize a poem strategy and I may soon be adopting theirs. My strategy has been to approach this task like any other items I have memorized such as numbers or cards. What I do is I number 50 (or more pieces of furniture or stops along a path) and then I memorize these stops (that I refer to as files). This is actually the core of the memory training system that I teach on how to memorize. It is a 2500 year old memory method referred to as loci.
When I approach the poem to memorize I have turned key words into images:
And = ants
The = knees
A = apple
Be = bee
Year = calendar
That = hat
His = hiss
With = wick
What = water
Who = owl
When = hen
These are just examples. Then when I read the poem I take the words and I place them on pieces of furniture in my home. Being somewhat methodical in placing line of the poem in its own room in my home.
How does this contrast with what some really high scorers are doing in this event? They read through the poem once and get a feel for what the author is trying to say noticing the style, rhythm and punctuation. This is a good lesson I have learned and I am going to start doing this. Further more, they memorize more by the message of the poem than the borderline cold way I have approached it as if I was memorizing a string of 200 digits.
Next, I have watched them write as they memorize. They will memorize 3 or 4 lines and then write them out over and over. This ingrains it in their memory. I never wrote the words out they always stayed in my mind until the recall stage of the event.
So what will my new strategy for memorizing a poem become? I will still have the picture for words substitutes ready. That is a critical element because to remember anything, including a poem you must turn it into a picture. The difference will be from now on, I will read the poem more and get a feel for what the author is saying and not just coldly memorize a string of words. I will also implement the practice of writing down the words of the poem during the memorizing stage and not just recall to help cement the words and flow into my mind.
I must confess that this memorizer was never a big fan of poetry but I have learned an appreciation for this artful way of telling a story. Even more importantly if you want to learn how to improve your memory and retention for poetry there is a way!