Shame

I walked down to the new Corner location of Revolutionary Soup for lunch today. I’d never been there before, but I’d heard great things. As they say, the food “did not disappoint.” But more importantly there is an English Major Discount if you can recite 3 lines of poetry from the poet of the day. Today’s poet was T.S. Eliot. I could not think of 3 sequential lines of Eliot (I did not, however, ask if they had to be sequential). I even tried extrapolating Eliot from my incomplete knowledge of the Cats libretto. I should be tossed out of the English Department on my ass this very day.

I don’t memorize poems; I don’t remember historical or biographical data, I don’t generally look at author photos unless they’re on the cover, staring me in the face. I put my mental energy into learning to think, to select and gracefully utilize the appropriate analytical tools for anything put in front of me. The rest is just data– you can always look that up. Even so, I should be able to remember 3 lines of Eliot.

So now I am listening to The Waste Land on tape.

As for the discount, luckily you could get the same discount (20%) for “bringing in an original poem,” so I tore out the worst piece of shit from my sketchbook (which I always have onhand). That piece of paper was worth $1. Nice.

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20 Responses to Shame

  1. Matthew Henriksen says:

    This one is easy:

    This is how the world will end
    This is how the world will end

    Not with a bang but a whimper

    _
    Not the best Eliot poem (F.F. Coppalla would differ), but good enough for free soup.

  2. Jessica Smith says:

    phew! Next time Tommy’s up I’ll have an answer.

  3. John Sakkis says:

    you could have been inventive

    april

    is the

    cruelest month

    and then been all “poetic licence”

  4. Steven Fama says:

    Don ‘t forget to thank Ezra Pound whenever reading or listening to “The Waste Land.”

    Until he got a hold of it, the poem began with the line, “First we had a copule of feelers down at Tom’s place” and continued in a similarly mostly unmemorable manner for 55 lines.”

    I love how Eliot sort of draws out “April is the cruellest month” slowly when he recites it outloud.

  5. wickedpen says:

    I am terrible about memorizing poems. I could probably do a little Eliot maybe because his voice is stuck in my head, or some Anne Sexton for the same reason. I too guess I’ve made peace with the fact those no way all this stuff is going to fit in my head, and it’s best I just let it go if I can look it up when I need it. I have enough of a hard time remembering people’s names…

  6. Jessica Smith says:

    steve: all i could remember was “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”! which almost gets you 3 lines. 2 lines. or 3 if they’re non-sequential!

    Looking at my copy of TWL, it’s evident that I’ve really read this poem. There are strata of marginalia. How is it that no 3-line segment stuck in my mind?

    kristy– my brain just doesn’t work this way (i have trouble memorizing passages), and one has to be picky about what to use up brainspace with. if only famous poems were as easy to remember as pop lyrics. i have an easier time remembering metered poetry, because if you know the meter and the author’s work you can fill in the gaps. i coulda gotten all kinds of free soup on the day they opened, when Shakespeare was the poet of the day.

  7. Steven Fama says:

    I must amend — reading now the facsimile / transcript version of “The Waste Land” (Harcourt Brace 1971) it appears that in fact it is not known whether it was Pound or Eliot himself who cancelled out the original 55 lines that preceded “April is the cruellest month…”

    A great edit, whoever did it.

  8. Amelia Lohrenz says:

    Heh heh. Well there are two lines by Eliot that function as the header to my blog: “How should I begin / to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?” (To fill out the third, you could begin, “When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall / …”)

    I actually have an unfortunate gift for memorizing things–songs, poems, films–which often causes me to wonder what great things I might be capable of if all those braincells had been put to better use, but I find Prufrock especially sticky.

  9. Jessica Smith says:

    One interesting result of this, besides a mandatory close listening and rereading of TWL, is that I got bored of reading TWL and picked up a volume of Marianne Moore. Moore isn’t a poet I’ve studied at all– the kind of poet who shows up for a few pages in anthologies one’s required to read, but not a poet I’ve read in-depth. (All this shallow reading perhaps begs the question, which poets have I read in-depth? I’d list Howe, McCaffery, Scalapino, Stevens, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Zukofsky. Like I feel comfortable with my knowledge of these poets’ oeuvres.) Anyway, it’s fabulous stuff! And just the impetus I need to work on my new poetry project.

  10. Jessica Smith says:

    p.s. It’s the last section of TWL, it just annoys me. It’s not that I find it uninteresting or unnecessary, it’s just ceased to entertain me. Finally I am a hedonistic reader (if sometimes a masochist).

  11. Tawrin says:

    Really, you should consider memorizing some poems. It is a real comfort, and can get you out of some bad situations.

    For some, the poem once existing as a solid mental object kicks the old unmemorized poems ass. The experience is fantastic. You realize those poems that can occupy endless amounts of thought and those that can’t. You get a really refined sense of extraneous words and concepts, an invaluable sense of of structure, and a new understanding of rythmn/meter. And they’re THERE, all the time, working themselves over in their beauty even when furthest from your mind.

    It’s bullshit about brainspace; the limiting factor is time. Choose short ones. My favorites: Dickinson, Herrick, Stevens, Yeats, Blake, Hopkins. I only have a few each (and it’d be easy to put in one a week), but what a world they make.

  12. Amish Trivedi says:

    I can’t memorize anything. My friend’s quote Wittgenstein or whatever and I’m like, “Ugh, there was this Seinfeld episode…”

    Perhaps this accounts for my academic inability.

    I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas…instead of whatever I am now.

  13. Jessica Smith says:

    Tawrin, it’s not like I’ve never memorized a poem in my life– as I said, metered poems are easier for me. I understand what you mean about the mental experience with the memorized poem, and I agree. The point is that I haven’t memorized the poems I need for soup– I’ve got Shakespeare, Browning, Frost, Sandburg, Zukofsky, but not Eliot.

  14. Jessica Smith says:

    Hey, I can quote Wittgenstein! And Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, Irigaray, Kant, etc…

    You don’t get soup for that. Or an English degree. Finally it is probably more useful to be able to refer to Seinfeld when discussing soup.

  15. DUSIE says:

    I don’t intentionally memorize but it happens with the poems I have spent a lot of time with…I think lines thru again and again and it can be a beautiful way to ‘keep’ poetry with you at all times… the funny thing is one can quote these sorts of line all day with ‘ordinary’ people and they don’t realize you are referencing anything outside of the conversation. i want you to go there every day now and let us know who they are asking for lines from…Shakespeare does seem a bit easy…but who else…I would not have gotten TSE…

  16. Tawrin says:

    I just got excited, but good point — why memorize Eliot? What, you memorize the footnotes of TWL too? Thinking about it, I could remember over ten couplets, but no consecutive third. He’s a ‘bookish’ poet, clearly.

  17. Jessica Smith says:

    So what poems have ya’ll memorized that you enjoy knowing?

  18. Steven Fama says:

    “Touch of the Marvelous” by Philip Lamantia. It’s just over 30 lines, a very vivid, so it’s not that hard.

    Also the last section (it’s a fairly short poem to begin with) of Rexroth’s “Signature of All Things.” It’s only about 20 lines. I can do a passable imitation of KR’s voice when reciting it.

    Also believe it or not, about 10 or so years ago I memorized the entire first section of “The Waste Land” and some of the the rest of it. I played the tape of Eliot reading the poem over and over in my car, going to and from work (40 minutes each way), for about two months, and practiced at home too. I had read that the great SF poet Bob Kaufman when he was alive could recite the thing from memory, so I decided to try it. It proved too much for me, and even that part I learn flew from my memory quickly after I stopped the immersion.

  19. Steven D. Schroeder says:

    Let us go then, you and I,
    When evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherised upon a table.

    I think I may have screwed up the middle line, but it’s a close enough paraphrase, no worse than Matt’s misquote of “The Hollow Men” :-)

    Oh, and it still amuses me greatly to recite Larkin’s “This Be the Verse.”

  20. andy gricevich says:

    Big chunks of “Prufrock” float around in my brain’s broth. Not too many complete poems: “Jabberwocky,” Pound’s poem “The Bath Tub,” a poem called “Temperate Zone Hurricane” by Michael Holloway (beginning, “It’s not the shit, it’s the fan”), Frank O’Hara’s “Louise.” All funny poems.
    It’d be interesting to flip through the books I’ve repeatedly reread to find out if anything’s completely memorized there. I probably know some Spicer, Bob Perelman, Dickinson stuff all the way through, and some of Zukofsky’s shortest (“There’s naaaw-thing/laaak poe-try…”). I’m sure there’s more than I think.
    What would it even mean to memorize a page of Susan Howe? Would you have to tilt your head at odd angles to recite some of the lines? Or say two things at once?
    I don’t think I could quote Deleuze, though I could rattle off a list of terms, get which books they’re from, and even define some of them, to the extent that that’s possible.

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