May 4th, 2007


Poetry Friday -- Mnemosyne

This morning, our elder daughter's class capped off a month of Greek mythology study with their 
God & Goddess Fashion Show

Believe me, Project Runway's got nothing on these 2nd graders. From Zeus and Hera to Hades and Eres, they were bedecked in silver and white swags of fabric, strappy sandals and shiny beads. Accessories included snakes, flowers and papier mache tridents that I wouldn't want to mess with, being a mere mortal.

My personal favorite (I'll bet you can't guess why) was Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory.

First, I had no idea that mnemonic devices were named after a goddess, did you!?! 
New found respect, to be sure.  

Second, Mnemosyne was mother to the muses. ALL of them! Can you fathom the spelling bees, poetry slams and recitals she had to attend? Hello, Stage Mama. But really, the muses. What offspring.

Third, I've got a pretty crummy memory so I figure I could use all the help I can get. 
If that means cozying up to an ancient mythological diety, so be it.

Fourth, the actress depicting Mnemosyne was none other than my own personal 8-year-old. 
What did you expect from me, utter objectivity?

Anyway, our shared study of Mnemosyne got me to thinking about poetry and how it used to be recited from memory. My dad can still recollect a piece or two he learned in grammar school. Maybe someone rapped him on the knuckles to get 'em to sink in, but I think it's pretty slick that he's always had a little brain space devoted to poetry. 

These days, nobody memorizes much poetry and I'm okay with that. I think there are other rich and visceral ways to absorb and embody art. But regardless, I've set myself a little goal this week: To memorize a poem. 

And what a better place to start than Averno, Louise Gluck's exquisite re-telling of the Persephone myth. The story laments Persephone's loss of innocence -- a different tone than today's rollicking fashion show, though our children's characters came to terms with patricide and unanswered love, incest and
irredeemable suffering, too. 

This story is Roman rather than Greek -- Averno is the lake in southern Italy that, it is said, marks the entrance to the underworld. And the poems are loooong and, I'll bet, not easily memorizable. 

Still, since Mnemosyne set me off on this quest, the least I can do is try to stay within subject matter. So I'm starting with Thrush on page 72. If I manage it, I might try Part I of the title poem next week.

What about you? Poems, times tables, grocery lists? Feel like committing anything to memory with me?