Suggestions and Tips for Poetic Recitation


1. Read the poem to yourself at least five times to try to get a feeling for the rhythm. Since no two people will read a poem alike, take the time to recite it slowly and find out the most comfortable places to breathe. Remember, you donít have to pause at the end of every line; instead, pause where it feels natural. Good reciters use pauses, emphases, and other nuances to show their understanding of a poem. Make sure you look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.


TIP: Itís helpful to read through the poem right before you go to sleep. Our brains tend to remember whatever the last thing is that we read or hear at night, so make sure your poem is the last thought you have as you drift into sleep.


2. Now that you have a feel for the poem and have practice saying it out loud, take a break. Put it away for a little while. Go for a walk and see how much of the poemís imagery you can remember. Donít be surprised if only a few words or phrases float into your mind instead of entire lines, and donít worry if you canít remember anything.


TIP: Avoid setting expectations or deadlines for memorizing. These tend to frustrate the learner and impede the process.


3. Approach the poem as a challenge to be mastered, not as work. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to remember. Break the poem into parts. Consider that the poem is made up of complete thoughts (sometimes actual punctuated sentences, and sometimes sentence fragments). Donít be concerned with where a line ends; instead, focus on where a thought ends. If there arenít stanza breaks, break the poem up yourself every five or six lines. It will be much easier to memorize small pieces instead of the whole poem at once.


TIP: Studies show that you remember 30% more when youíre standing up. When trying to memorize a poem, recite it standing up.


4. Read the first stanza (or complete thought). Close your eyes and see how much you remember. Open your eyes and see how well you did. Try imagining pictures in your mind to go along with the poem. Visuals are very good reminders as you recite a poem. Let each complete thought have an image, which connects to the following thought and image. If you canít remember the words, seeing the picture in your head may spark the words.


TIP: Your brain will recall better if you use all your senses. Try recopying the lines of poetry using different color ink.


5. Repeat this process until you can recite aloud the entire first stanza (or first complete thought). Donít move on to the second until you are confident with the first.


TIP: If you must be prompted constantly, if you recite so quickly that the words blur into each other, or if you add, delete, move or change words, you will not receive much credit. Be precise.


6. Repeat the process for the second thought or stanza, just concentrating on it alone. Try covering the remaining parts of the poem with an index card so your eyes donít range down the page and become distracted. Once you can say the second stanza aloud, recite the first and second together. No matter how far into the poem you get, always go back to the beginning when practicing.


TIP: Take small bites and donít push yourself. If youíre tired or frustrated, rest your mind and body for a few moments. Of all tasks we have, memorization is not something that succeeds when we feel stress.


7. Repeat until you have the poem completely memorized.


TIP: Donít limit yourself with declarations of inability. Donít chastise or threaten yourself. Telling yourself that youíre incapable of the task will undermine the process. Negativity is counterproductive.


8. Recite the poem out loud. Imagine standing in front of your class smiling and reciting and getting all the words correct. Recite the poem for family and friends. Although reciting the poem in the car or in the shower will be effective, live practice will feel different from when itís just you. It may be helpful to concentrate on a spot on the wall behind your audience. Choose a clock or a window or a crack in the wall and recite your poem to it; if you look people in the eye you may get nervous or giggly and lose your concentration.


TIP: The best defense against anxiety or nervousness is preparation.


9. On the day of the recitation, before itís your turn, take a last glimpse over the poem and cement it in your mind. If you know it, you know it.


TIP: Make sure you are well rested for your dayís recitation.


10. Have fun, and donít forget to smile.