Hisham Matar talks to Terry Gross about how, while his father was a political prisoner in Libya, he would recite poetry for himself and the other prisoners. Matar’s father was kidnapped in 1990 and Matar never saw him again.:
It was an astonishing demonstration and victory on his part, on an old argument that he and I had because, like most children, I wasn’t exactly excited about being obliged to memorize pages and pages of text, and he would try to convince me about the virtues of doing such a thing, that it would teach you about language. He described it once, he said, ‘I… [R]eading a poem is like a bird flying over a forest but memorizing it is like that same bird walking through the forest. …” So he would give me all these examples to try to sell me the idea of memorizing these poems, which i did and later of course learned other virtues — many wonderful virtues — of memorizing text, that it does feel like company in a sense. But this story of him reciting poems to comfort himself and others in prison was just another demonstration of how right he was and it made me feel, it made me feel, I was happy for him to have had these poems in his chest, that they were there to delight and comfort perhaps and entertain him and others.
When he was a child Matar’s father had told him that “knowing a book by heart is like carrying a house inside your chest.”
image by catinthecupboard