I hate it when my specious and shallowly provocative prejudices come back to bite me on my self-important although deliciously exfoliated ass. Having once been, OK, a little snippy about Daisy Goodwin in the Guardian, I must now shamefacedly acclaim her evidently brilliant Off By Heart children's poetry recital scheme.
Poetry was invented to be conjured on the tongue. All those nomadic bards, minstrels, skalds, rhapsodes, udgatars, griots, ashiks, ozans and dengbejs moulded it into a perfect conduit and cradle for cultural and social memory. On the page, like Shakespeare's plays, poetry has a sterile beauty; but remembered and performed, it has visceral, affecting life.
Goodwin explains that although children are likely to 'miss every nuance' of a sophisticated poem, they will store its riches for later use, which instantly makes me imagine the sardine tails in Mr Twit's beard. But I'd go further and say that if they have a verse by heart they probably already 'get' it better than many adults. As any actor will attest, to properly remember something you have to understand it. Parrot by rote, and your brain can't connect the chain. Find the throughline, the backbone - even if it is purely rythmic, aural or instinctive - and it sticks. Allusive, intellectual and contextual richness will come; but sensing the emotional and aesthetic shape of a poem deep in your bones is the most important and often neglected way to its heart.
Of course, this proud, prejudical, soapboxing Blonde is distressingly prone to talking the talk, but swiftly deciding that walking it would simply give her unneccesary creases in her over-the-knee leather boots. Not this time. I really must learn more poetry by heart (when I say more, I mean more than one Shakespeare sonnet. Even with that I have a tendency to stick 'ds and 'sts where Will never meant them to be). I am resolved, sweet rabble, to have my favourite poem down pat by Christmas. You can test me.
I just wish it wasn't Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, is all.