On learning poetry from memory.

I’ve spent the last week learning a new poem. This might not seem like the most startling revelation from a spoken word artist, it’s what they do. I know lots of my poems from memory, especially the short ones or the ones which rhyme, a process I started when I got an eye problem and had difficulty in reading the book on dark stages. What makes this one different is that it’s a brand new poem which I haven’t yet performed.

I have a shocking memory for learning material. A long while ago I was in a play at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, it was a production of Sarah Kane’s Crave, and it felt almost impossible to learn because none of the lines made any logical sense compared to the line before it. I can’t remember how I managed to do it in the end.

The reason I’ve learned a new poem is that I’m taking part in a theatre writing showcase in London tomorrow and the director wants the poem to be performed from memory. So I’ve spent the last two weeks learning it, and using all kinds of techniques to make sure that the lines go in. So what I’ve been doing is making crazy associations between the end of one line and the start of the next.

For example:

. . .when he gets distracted by the cricket results.

So we’re walking on the beach, me and Brandon . .

I visualised cricket on the beach.

For ‘butt blocks in the rigging,
Man the head!’

I visualised someone getting their head caught in the rigging of a ship.

And for ‘whales both hump back and sperm,
First mate officers . .’,

I visualised . .
Well, someone would really have to be your mate to do anything with them and sperm.

I’ve also been practising the poem all the time, in the shower, at the gym, in the sauna, and while walking through town. I must have looked like something of a loony, walking along and mouthing words to myself, but it’s working. The poem is currently locked in place and I’m feeling rather pleased.

So the next step, of course, is to memorise a whole hour show. A three minute poem took two weeks, so a sixty minute show should take . . . Well, it should be ready by 2018!

Here’s the poem:

Poem

It must be hot,
My mars bar’s turned to mush,
The sound of melting tarmac
In the late night hush.
Bread in the packet has already turned to toast,
My neighbours pet chicken is now a Sunday roast.
Now I don’t like to boast,
Because I’ve got Brandon, oooo, Brandon
Basking on my bed in his boxers,
Both of us pining for something fresh
Other than the obvious
Like the steering freeze of truth,
The cool, cool wash of contentment,
Or a vanilla ice cream.

Bung a flake in it, good fellow.
Bung a flake in that thing!
Grab it, twist it, thrust it in,
Now how much do I owe you?

We’re making our way through this
Seaside town now, me and Brandon,
He’s promised something hot and long and sticky
The moment we get back.
It’s been years since I had a kebab.
Past shop clad shutters and graffiti denouncing
Tracey as a slag,
To the neon buzz moth hub
Of the prom prom prom
Tiddly om Pom Pom
Last night in bed he said
It isn’t  very long
Tiddly om Pom Pom
And it’s very limp.

And I said,
It’s seen a lot of tourists over the years
And it’s prone to erosion
And longshore drift.
Half of it was swept away
By a giant squid.

The rash on the side of my neck
Is caused by Brandon’s stubble as if scrapes
Sandpaper scrapey sprapey scrape
When he gets distracted by
The cricket results.

And now we’re walking next to the beach and his face is
Lit up like that of a cartoon ferret on a box of cheap own brand
Rice Krispie knock offs
The spoon filled with ricey goodness
Hovering inches from his cavernous gob 

And the salt air late night sea breeze
Caresses our manly frames
Imbuing in us all kinds of nautical hi jinx
Naval seriousness, merry little frigates,
Dolphin blowholes, bottom feeding mullets,
Whales both humpback and sperm,
First mate officers, salty sea dogs,
Able bodied seamen, bow thrusters,
Butt blocks in the rigging, man the head,
Bump head gurnards and bottle nosed lumpsuckers.
And chub.

Do you see the ice cream van?
Do you see the ice cream van?
An oblong of light spilled out on the
Sand flecked concrete,
It’s refrigeration generator
Throbbing the sir with a sudden intensity,
Chugga chugga chugga
Do you feel it throbbing away there?
Chugga chugga chugga
Window stickers advertising all kinds
Of things to lick and nibble and crunch down on
Cool and ever so creamy.

The moon beams on high like someone from Dorset.
In the glow of it’s madness we dance.
Oh, Brandon, I want to do things
To certain bits of you
For most of the night,
Though I’m conscious you’ve got an early shift
At the Lady Remington Smooth N Silky
Cordless Rechargeable Hair Removal Facility factory
And the ice cream man,
Oh,
The ice cream man,
Did I mention he’s also a magician?
A sparkle in his eye,
He starts waving his magic wand at us, and

Poof!

All is gone.
The ice cream man is gone.
The ice cream van is gone.
The neon and the stats are gone.
And Brandon is gone.
None of them ever existed.
It’s just me, and the prom
On a sultry night in a sleepy coastal town,
And the kebab shop is closed,
And the rash on my neck
Is just a fungal infection
And Tracey is still a slag, apparently,
And I walk sadly home,
I walk sadly home.

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One thought on “On learning poetry from memory.

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  1. Goodness, that poem had me gripped this morning! Hope you let us know how the peformance goes! I’ve never recited one of my poems from memory; I went to an open mic event last night and was in awe of one participant who effortlessly relayed one of his; suddenly making me feel rather inadequate reading from my big folder o’ poems. The line association thing is a good tip though! Maybe one day I’ll challenge myself…

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