I’ll never memorize Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth.” I’ve tried for several hours. I think it’s because the poem is held together by sound. My memory, however, wants a rhetorical progression. But I could play cards with the poem.
Closer to an empty nest, Victoria and I have taken again to rummy after fifteen years or so away from it. My strategy is this: when you have three cards that represent a potential set and a potential run, discard the card that shares an attribute of the other two. For example, if you have the seven of hearts, the seven of diamonds, and the six of diamonds, discard the seven of diamonds. Why? Because you’re making your deck an extension of your hand. Victoria won’t want the card — you have too many associated cards for her to care for it — and she also is discarding stuff she doesn’t want. All the upside (and expanded deck) with little downside (no points to get caught with if she goes out).
“Eye and Tooth” would be filled with these triplets if alliteration were runs and assonance were sets. The first line’s “sunset red” is the first triplet. “Sunset” itself starts a run, and “set red” starts a set. Too much sound to memorize. (But discard “set.”)
Plus, the poem promises formalism, but it’s only a tease. The poem flakes out in each of its nine quatrains, deliberately prosaic from a metrical standpoint after a couple of lines but thumping good from sound and image standpoints.
Despite all the sound devices, it doesn’t sound good, which in this case is good. It’s better read silently with the lips moving as they would on a dreaming man. Dream you’re reading it, and it’ll sound fine. Dream you’re memorizing it, too.
I’m getting a head start on SoloPoMo, using some material I posted on an obscure WordPress.com blog while I mulled over how to redo my blog. I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my own celebration of SoloPoMo.