No, I will not commit to the unattainable (by me) goal of writing a poem a week. Instead, I have committed to learning one poem each week this year. Or each month. Whatever. I’m going to learn some poetry this year.
Yesterday, while I was driving, I caught myself muttering snippets of “Le Dormeur du Val” by Arthur Rimbaud. Now, before you think, “Oh forgodsakes, Rimbaud? In French?” and jump to the same conclusions about me and my tastes that I would hurtle to if in your shoes, you must know that the only reason I can mutter these snippets to myself is that I memorized the poem in 1991 or so for a French declamation contest. Alright—on second thought, your snap conclusions probably weren’t all that far off.
Every year we memorized a new, more difficult poem than the year before. “Le Dormeur du Val” was the apogee of my declamatory career. I loved it. The alliteration: “…Souriant comme/Sourirait…” and the understatement: “Il a deux trous rouges…” spoke to me, and I loved the way my face felt when I said the words.
A generation before me, memorizing poetry was a regular part of a young person’s education, but that kind of rote fell out of favor. Which is probably for the best. I was not much of one for homework and would likely have put up much futile resistance to being forced to learn poems in anything other than a foreign language. But now that no one is making me do it, I realize I would very much like to. I love the short snippets of poetry—mostly in French, but also in English and Russian—that I do have at my fingertips, available to me as touchstones. And in a time when so much feels ephemeral or out of reach, touchstones are just what I need.
So I am going to try to learn a poem every week. I will read it. I will try to understand it. I will speak it. Until it is mine to take with me wherever I go.