I have been reading some of Audre Lorde’s essays and poetry. She talks about how she struggled as a child to find the words for her feelings. She began to memorize poetry and would recite fragments to reply to somebody speaking to her instead of creating her own sentences.
This ties in well with what Lorde says about patriarchally induced “aphasia” and “amnesia.” We forget our histories because they are too painful or male supremacy is invested in us misremembering their brutality (amnesia), and what we can remember, we struggle to articulate with words (aphasia).
Another person who did something similar to Lorde is Jeanette Winterson. Memorizing her favorite lines in books and poems was her pillar while growing up in an abusive home.

I have struggled lately with articulating what I feel inside. So I thought I would give this little tradition a hand. Perhaps it would help me with something. Maybe it would help me with things I didn’t really know were problems, too?

The first poem I tried this with is Mary Oliver’s “Trilliums.” It’s a poem that has been close to me for a few years now. It struck me immediately when I first read it. It has a haunting quality and describes the isolation and the self-discovery of childhood misfits in the most beautiful way imaginable.

Memorizing requires a certain amount of brute force and willpower. It reminds me of all the Quran I was told to memorize as a child. My aunt, quite religious and um, a bit nutty, used to always say, “When you memorize Quran like this, you know God’s words by heart. By heart! And God’s words are inside you forever! You can speak the words to him before you go to heaven, and he will know you belong there! (She also gave us little turtle figurines and creepy dolls from good will as prizes for memorizing chapters. And we would jump on the couch while we memorized it. Hah! Good times.)

As a child, I imagined that this process of learning something “by heart” would carve some kind of tunnel between my brain and my heart/soul, and from the heart/soul a tunnel was created to God. Sometimes it still feels like that, but not as literal, since I’m not religious now. But it’s still as if somehow having words you revere permanently inside of yourself can mystically fortify you. Maybe it’s an old superstition of mine that holding words that you need in your body can transform you or at least help you turn your face to the sun and see life through new eyes if you forget how to.

Once you finish the process of memorizing something exactly as it is written, you feel like some part of your mind that was lying inert has been forcefully shifted over to make room for this new addition that you intentionally, painstakingly carved into your mental landscape.

I’m not sure that all of these established parts of my mind should be there anymore. Some of those old cinder-blocks up there are hateful, abusive self-concepts. Some of it is just dead weight, artifacts of boredom or time wasted fretting over something minor. I like the thought of pushing them out with the words of gifted women that I have grown to admire. I know it isn’t really possible to literally push out parts of your mind like puzzle pieces, but I’m enjoying the imagery anyway.

That’s all!


2 thoughts on “Memorization

  1. I love this idea of memorizing being a way to set something in our hearts and souls. I was just introduced to Mary Oliver this past year (I’m planning on having some “Wild Geese” tattooed on my arm someday soon) and Trilliums is such a wonderful poem. I was reading Dream Works over the weekend, in fact, and once again thinking, “Where have you been all my life??” Sometimes I think the things we want to memorize and bring into our hearts are also the things that have been there all along, we just never had the words to describe them.


    1. I like what you say at the end there about having what we love in our hearts already. I hadn’t articulated that conclusion to myself, but it opened my eyes to something important. Thanks!

      When you get the tattoo, it would be cool to see it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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