Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Rewards of Memorizing Haiku

Even though haiku are short and thus fairly easy to memorize, I enjoy doing so because of the chance to assign distinct images in my mind to match words of the poems.

I recently came across a short piece by mya1974, a writer I follow on twitter, who contributes to a daily haiku project, haikudawg.

mya1974 writes:
I could pity this
Youngish woman, prettyish
Just getting by-ish.
One reason this poem caught my attention was because I first read it while I was visiting New York City. I had been thinking about the idea that people in a populous place are accustomed to taking quick stock of passersby and moving on.

mya1974 captures, or better yet, demonstrates what could be that kind of swift assessment in the poem.

When I recite the haiku, I first imagine the speaker--a woman--sitting in a window seat of a coffee shop. She's older and notices another "Youngish" woman, who's clearly newer to the city and unaware of the coming challenges, hence the notion that the speaker could "pity" her.

In my mind, the older woman acknowledges that the younger woman is, you know, "prettyish." And although the young woman is perhaps naive , she, just like the older woman years or decades ago, is "Just getting by-ish."

The added and concluding "ish" connects to "swish" or "whisk" to connote the ongoing, quick movement taking place in the city.

Of course, the images I assign to mya1974's haiku are likely much different than what she may have had in mind when she wrote the piece. And since the poem is so short, I don't really need to create any images at all in order to memorize it.

But the poem ends up meaning more to me when I add distinct images in my head, and it's mentally rewarding for me to create a small scene based on the piece.

For longer poems I have memorized such as Phillis Wheatley's "On Being Brought From Africa to America" and Tyehimba Jess's "1912: Blind Lemon Jefferson Explaining to Leadbelly," I have more images and scenes to match the words and phrasings. Still, I find the process of creating scenes for the haiku just as useful and fulfilling. 

Assigning scenes to coincide with a poem's words such as with mya1974's piece requires some effort, but it makes the poem memorable. And it also gives me an opportunity to exercise a bit of creativity and my mental facilities.

In addition to memorizing a large number of poems by African American poets over the course of the year, I plan to eventually commit several haiku by Richard Wright to memory. Wright did a good job of incorporating vibrant colors and nature references in his haiku so I believe that I'll have a good time assigning scenes in my mind to correspond to the words in the haiku.

No comments: