“Collapse (Of The Memory Palace)” A la Rossetti (Dante Gabriel)


Collapse (of the Memory Palace)

Onces I could recall
were once numbered in the many,
like a building so stories tall–
now, not any.
Not true, not fair.  Still, a lodging rather small

now houses about all.
And it seems to be built of scone,
the kind with currents sultanal–
I’d prefer stone,
which wouldn’t flake as I walk down the hall,

spot grease on every wall
instead of portraits, landscapes, fine,
their contours round me like a shawl,
warm with that time–
lost many–before memory’s crumbled fall.

A reading of the poem:


My picture, in case for some strange reason you can’t quite tell, is meant to be a scone house.  I am posting this for a With Real Toads challenge of Kerry O’Connor to write a poem in a rhyming and meter format developed by the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). I’ve used one of Rossetti’s images (the face in the window of the scone house), and also stretched/squeezed in some of his background leaves.

 For American readers, sultanas are known in the U.S. as golden raisins – I’m afraid I’ve made them too dark in my picture.  A “memory palace” is an age-old technique for memorization, which involves placing whatever is to be remembered in a slightly strange context in some part of a known physical space.   (Joshua Foer has written a wonderful book about this – MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN.)  I was not frankly thinking about that use of memory when initially writing the poem, but it’s kind of a fun connection. 

Check out Kerry’s prompt for more info on Rossetti’s form, and also for other poets taking the challenge.

Also, if you get a moment, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS!  Great for Christmas presents!  Poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 1 Mississippi -toddlers’ counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, orNose Dive. Nose Dive is available on Kindle for just 99 cents!

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32 Comments on ““Collapse (Of The Memory Palace)” A la Rossetti (Dante Gabriel)”

  1. Wow, this is wonderful, I especially love the words you used like “onces”

  2. janehewey Says:

    this has a lilting quality. I’m especially fond of your last paragraph. The grease spot, the shawl. this is an enjoyable read.

  3. Marian Says:

    woweeeee word choice! sultanal? love it! VERY interesting and creative.

  4. brian miller Says:

    nice…i like the stone and scone…the crumbling texture of one…the grease on the wall instead of pictures of portraits…the wrapping round you like a shawl…the commentary on the memroy palance is intriguing as well…there are def memories we try to hold onto…

  5. A memorial built of scones, with a little door and window… That’s a most unique image. I know that Rossetti often painted his wife from sketches after her death, so a memory house seems very apt. I can see you had a lot of fun with this.

  6. This is really cool, k. I’m definitely with you on the same grease-spotted floor of the memory palace, wondering when and how all the onces have turned into monotony or else just crumbled away–love the analogy(or metaphor) of inhabiting the scone with framed faces from the past. Very adroit word juxtaposition and acrobatics throughout–acrobatics in a good way, like gymnasts.

  7. Both picture and poem combine together to render the piece rather nostalgic, which chime with the weather here. End of autumn, beginning of winter. I loved it. Many thanks.

    All poems have now been posted on my blog. Swing by to read yours. I took the liberty of copying and pasting your bio from your profile on your blog. I hope that’s OK. I also included relevant links to your work. 🙂

    Greetings from London.

  8. Sherry Marr Says:

    Fantastically well done. It reads like one of the old classics. Just great!

  9. Luke Prater Says:

    Wonderful , Karin, and I’m so glad you decided to recite it. With rhyming/metered forms in particular, they really come to life spoken. The rhymes are intoned to make sense contextually and are often very clever too. I had flashes of Elizabeth Bishop here. I may have to try this form despite saying I’ve done with form experimentation and would only return to villanelles, sonnets, ballads and ones I make up myself. I have a challenge for you – I’ve posted Hemingway’s Six-Word Story and some of my own attempts… I’ve had this running for two solid days on Facebook after posting them there…

    cheers my friend, great work here

  10. I love the explanation beneath your poem of memory palace…interesting concept that I’ve not heard before.

    Your poem is neat…I like the idea of being inside the scone house and I like too that you switch up on me the mental imagery with the contrasting stone.


  11. Kay Davies Says:

    A very interesting concept, and an interesting poem. I, too, love anything involving scones, with or without raisins.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha. Well my husband’s had to go gluten-free and I’m being supportive so don’t have real ones very much at the moment! More’s the pity. I drink a lot of tea though. k.

  12. Susan Says:

    Until you reminded me of the Memory Palace in your note, I was thinking of this as all memory/mind as in what we fear losing with aging. Of course that is on my mind lately and so I loved the corridors of this poem and the flaking and the sweet raisins–all of the fallen and not fallen yet.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      I really meant aging, but then I thought about the memory palace. Foer’s book is really fascinating. When I first read it, I went on a big project of memorizing poems and it did help a lot, but it was a great deal of work even with the mnemonics. k.

  13. I love the way you bend & twist words here…”built of scone with currents sultanal” might be the best linguistic manipulation I’ve heard in a long time. So surreal, and yet so… edible. Lovely.

  14. haha, that’s just great, i like your sense of humour and wonderful mindx

  15. Emma Says:

    Very clever and fun, I enjoyed that

  16. David King Says:

    Magnificent! I much prefer yours to the original — though I do think yours opens up new insights (for me, anyway) in Rossetti’s.

  17. This is creative K ~ I specially like the last stanza, there is something poignant of that memory before it crumbles and falls ~

  18. Helen Dehner Says:

    Great poem .. better yet, listening as you recite it.

  19. I didn’t know about the memory palace and appreciate how you weave that with the visuals here in such a creative and clever way. I know sultanas but will never see them the same again.

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