During the Victorian era, recitals and related readings were very popular and audiences would gather in both home parlours and larger venues to hear poetry read aloud. Much emphasis was placed on learning the fine art of elocution.
While it may be better to allow some freedom of delivery when making a speech, this is not the case when reading poetry to an audience. The objective is to both memorize the poem in exacting detail and deliver it with the correct emotional inflections.
The following series of steps will assist you in learning how to remember a poem and present it to a captivated and appreciative audience.
Step 1. Select a Poem
If you are fortunate to have a choice in the selection process, it is always better to choose a poem that interests you. It may the subject, the setting, or the language but as with most things, the more interested you are in the material, the easier it will be to commit it to memory.
Step 2. Study the Poem
It is generally true that there is deeper meaning to be found in a poem that is not necessarily seen or understood by your first reading. Take some time and read the poem a few times to yourself to “get a feel” for the poem. Visualize it if you can and try to gain an appreciation of what the writer was trying to communicate. If there are unfamiliar words or phrases, be sure to look up their meaning and proper pronunciation.
If the poem is particularly important to you or part of a graded exercise, consider doing some additional research to see what others have said about the poem. The more you understand the poem the better equipped you will be when delivering it as the audience will sense your connection with the words.
Step 3. Choose a Memory System
Either of the Linking or Peg systems can be useful when committing the poem to memory. Most poems already have a structure and stanzas for you to work with and therefore it is often easier to create the associated Links or Pegs. Poems are typically very visual and you will be able to create strong mental images to help encode the words.
Step 4. How do you eat an Elephant?
One bite at a time of course! Some poems are very long and involving and committing them to memory is no small feat and will require some effort. Depending on the length of the poem you have chosen to memorize, you may find it helpful to break the material into smaller sections. If necessary you can create a Link or Peg for each of these sections and Link those together.
Step 5. Practice Makes Perfect
Begin reading the poem aloud. Do not worry at this point about putting meaning to the words… just focus on encoding the words and finding the correct flow of the poem. Again, if the poem is long and involved, start with one section at a time and master that section before moving on to the next. Keep reading the poem aloud using your memory system until you feel comfortable that you have memorized the words.
Step 6. Add Meaning
A poem that is read without emotion or understanding will not resonate with your audience. Your job is to take the audience away to some new place, to paint visual images in their minds and evoke an emotional response. In order for your audience to “feel” the poem, you must first have a strong emotional connection yourself. As you read the poem aloud, begin to add emotion to your voice, accentuating and drawing out the writer’s meaning and purpose. It is often helpful at this stage to record your voice and play it back so that you can experience what the audience will hear and give you the opportunity to fine tune your delivery.