Monday, April 17, 2017

Memory Aids: Prose Poetry and Song

I am very excited about what Kelly Clear is adding to the experience of reading Vacuum County.  I am not a big fan of Audible books myself, because I like to look at the words in a book as I read it. You might say I am more of a visual learner. But there are some things that need to be heard to be understood and remembered. Poems are meant to be said out loud. Songs should be sung.

I was sharing this video of the song "Down by the Crick" from Chapter 3 in Vacuum County with a friend who had read the book many years ago. "That's nice," she said. "But I don't remember that there was a song in the book." Well there were the words to the song. And David was described singing it. But it depends on how you read books whether you are likely to remember that.

If you're reading visually, it's easy to miss that something is a song. I mean, it's obviously not prose. And it says in the story that David plays the guitar and sings it. But if you only kind of sped past that part in your reading and only tend to remember "what happened" in the chapter, then you are unlikely to remember the song at all.

Most people use episodic memory  for specific vivid events and rely on semantic memory to sort out the overall narratives of their lives, but they don't remember anything that they read in a novel word for word. By the same token, few people have episodic memory for dialogue in real life.  Much of the information that we acquire through experience is stored as semantic memory, without the moment by moment experiences that gave us the information. In the same way, if we read a book, and it made any kind of impression, we might later be able to describe what happened in the book as a general synopsis of the action, or we might be able to say what we may have learned from the book, but nobody expects us to remember all the words in the book in the right order. If we could do that, there would be no point in copyright laws. Everybody would have a copy of each book he has read stored in his head and would be able to read it off for other people at a moment's notice.

But when you hear a song played or a poem recited, this creates an episodic memory of it word for word, and not just a summary of what the song was about. Read it out loud several times or hear it played and re-played, and you'll remember it forever. That is the genius of poetry and song. 

When new readers experience Vacuum County through the medium of the Audible book produced by Kelly  Clear, they are  going to remember certain passages as if they had lived through the experiences themselves. The songs sung by David will come to life!

File:Frans Hals - Luitspelende nar.jpg

Image: By Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) - André Hatala [e.a.] (1997) De eeuw van Rembrandt, Bruxelles: Crédit communal de Belgique, ISBN 2-908388-32-4., Public Domain,


  1. I think the songs will bring this story to life. It sounds like a great project.