Joel Nelson: Well, I never go to the trouble of memorizing a poem unless it affects me very deeply. It has to be one that has a great deal of appeal to me for some reason. And when I stumble across one like that, and I memorize it first for myself, maybe not even thinking of performing it anywhere, but I want to have that at my fingertips at any time that I want it without the need of going to a book to find it. I have the need to memorize one before I present it to an audience. I think something is lost when someone reads poetry. I hear of poetry readings – someone, some people call our poetry gatherings or poetry performances “poetry readings.” They don’t mean it in an offensive way but usually the people who I do poetry with recite rather than read and to see someone stand and read poetry is somewhat like maybe going to see West Side Story or Phantom of the Opera and have the actors and the performers reading their parts rather than knowing them and performing them from their heart, from the inside. I just don’t think you can read something off a page and have it be as effective as if it comes from deep inside you.
In an excerpt from this week's Art Works podcast, Nelson talks about the importance of memorizing poetry for recitation (take note, all you Poetry Out Loud participants). [01:31]