Posted tagged ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’

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

December 2, 2012


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!

Spring At Last (And Also In My Head!) (The Re-Awakening of Memory)

May 27, 2011


As followers of this blog know, in the last couple of days I’ve been inspired by Joshua Foer’s book MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN to try to memorize poetry. I’ve pushed my reluctant brain to adopt some goofy age-old mnemonic techniques, imagining characters from my past in absurd, or even obscene, positions, as visual cues for certain poetic lines and segues. And, lo and behold, it has worked! I’ve learned four or five long poems!

Last night, though, something even more amazing began to happen. Poems that I had learned years ago (there are only a few) but that I’d forgotten, that I’d consigned to the dustbin of “what I used to know,” were suddenly revolving around my head like old jingles from chewing gum commercials. Things like the prologue from the Canterbury Tales and bits of Yeats and Shakespeare.

It was like I’d hotwired some big memory circuits in my brain, and that, in turn, had burned the gunk off a lot of old funky fuses.

Remembering those old poems has felt like spring (up in my head)–not a full blown May perhaps, but at least a bit of aprill. (“With its shoures soot.”)

P.S. the above picture is a photograph of an apple tree filtered with the Photogene app on the iPad. Have a lovely weekend.

Drawing On Memory (“Moonwalking With Einstein” On the Way “To His Coy Mistress”) )

May 25, 2011


I just finished this morning Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. This wonderful book details Foer’s journey from journalist covering a U.S. memory championship competition to competitor and actual winner of the same U.S. memory championship one year later.

Foer, both “mental athelete” and terrific writer, not only describes his training for the memory championship and the crazed and blinkered world of competitive mnemonists, but also explores the historical place of memory as archiving and creative tool, and also (to the extent known) its scientific place in our personalities and brains.

This post is not intended as a review, but to mention that the book has set me off on a project of memorizing poetry.

Unfortunately, memorizing poetry is slightly less amenable to the memory tricks detailed by Foer. This, it seems to me, is because a lot of these tricks involve the use of a “memory palace” or locus, and odd visual cues and puns placed about this memory palace. These tricks are frankly not that easy for a newcomer (who is also becoming an oldtimer), but they can be especially difficult to use for poems because the memorable visual cues sometimes run directly counter to the sense of the poem.

The tricks do work though, and are especially useful for lines or segues that are hard to keep in mind.

I started this morning with two poems I already know well – To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Profrock by T.S. Eliot. The tricks worked much better with the Marvell, maybe because coming up with images for things like “vegetable love” and (as seen above) “youthful Hue” seemed much less irreverant than mucking about with Eliot.

The picture above includes some of the images I used to keep the last stanza of the poem in mind. My memory place was my backyard, my youthful Hugh a guy I once knew (who sat in a pear tree in my yard ), the torn “Lucky Strikes” were my visual attempt to keep torn”rough strife” in mind. Treasure substituted for pleasure. (Yes, I know it sounds crazy–but it worked!)

To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

   But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

   Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.