After reading an NPR article, “A Memorized Poem ‘Lives with You Forever,’ So Choose Carefully,” regarding the U.K.’s Poetry By Heart competition, I started to think about the poems I had to memorize in school and which ones have actually stayed with me even today, years after grade school. One poem that always resurfaces in my memory is “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall.
One year in grade school my class was assigned to recite two poems- one poem was chosen by the teacher and the other poem was the individual student’s choice. Waiting for the right one to simply catch my eye or draw me in, I spent a couple of days perusing poetry books from our school library until I came upon “The Ballad of Birmingham”, a poem based on the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The image of the mother searching frantically for her daughter in the rubble and finding her child’s shoe was the part of the poem that really affected me; my heart broke for that mother and what she must have been feeling. This poem really hit a nerve with me, and I felt compelled to share it with the class. I just wanted to ask my classmates Isn’t that awful how this poor mother lost her daughter? Don’t you feel her sadness and despair as she lifts the shoe out of the rubble? To this day, I remember how that poem made me feel, I remember the need I had within me to share it with others.
The author of the article, Camila Domonoske, wrote Jean Sprackland [helped assemble 130 eligible poems to recite for the competition] says that a poem known by heart becomes a part of you, and “it’s something that lives with you forever.” For some, that might stay true even if you lose a few of the words. Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Sprackland! Though I can’t recite the words by heart any longer, the images in the poem “Ballad of Birmingham” and the sorrow I felt when I first encountered the poem years ago still linger and creep into my mind from time to time. How wondrous that a poet’s words can strike in such a manner, the way those words can anchor themselves in one’s heart and live there forever.