Friday, June 7, 2013


We all know the power of repetition.

We return to familiar words like we are coming home after a long journey.

We sing the choruses and refrains of our popular songs and hymns with a bit more gusto than the actual verses .

We all join in the hook or the bridge of popular songs. Just listen to us in the car when the part we all know comes on--- we throw back our heads and belt out the familiar words ( faking the ones we don't know) welcoming the repetition.

Poems and rhymes sometimes have repeated lines or verses.
The echo brings us full circle, returning us to the  familiar.
The echo satisfies us.
We anticipate it, we wait for the second coming, the third coming of those words we know

Repeating words emphasizes our thoughts, our emotions, our collective agreement .

Repeating words at the end of our verses, our songs, our speeches, our sentences, stamps approval,  voices our corporate amen, and brings closure.

Yes-- this is true.  For sure, it is right.  Definitely, it is real.

And sometimes repetition is not meaningful, political or poetic.  Sometimes it is just fun.
Babies repeat words and phrases just for the pleasure of hearing  the sounds again and delighting in the growing familiarity as they repeat the sounds over and over..

While repeating words at the end brings us home and returns us to the point,  repeating words at the beginning of sentences or paragraphs propel us forward, building electricity and energy as they push us into the unknown.  What is next? What now?  Where is this going?

 Anaphora  is the rhetoric term for repeating words and phrases for poetic effect at the beginning of successive clauses or verses or sentences . 

One of my favorite books,  An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant, effectively uses anaphora to create a mood and chillingly somber image of the place in which Solomon Singer lives (or does not live).

Solomon Singer lived in a hotel for men near the corner of  Columbus Avenue and Eighty-fifth Street in New York City, and he did not like it. The hotel had none of the things he loved.
His room had no balcony (he dreamed of beautiful balconies). It had no fireplace  (and he knew he would surely think better sitting  before a fireplace). It had no porch swing for napping  and no picture window for watching the birds.
He could not have a cat. He could not have a dog.  He could not even paint his walls a different color, and oh, what a difference a yellow wall  or purple wall would have made.
The repeated negative phrases move us deeper and deeper into the depressing living situation of Solomon Singer.

And here is the beginning snippet of an unfinished poem using anaphora that I wrote several years ago in our summer institute. It  was inspired by a lesson based on Mathias Svalina's Destruction Myth  taught by poet Noah Falck, one of our CAWP teachers.  

In the beginning was the poem a magnificent cluster of words and worlds from which we all derived. 
 In the beginning words danced and jostled and peaked and swelled finding their places and mates and meaning.
 In the beginning  all words were equal—any could stand beside another, adding to or taking away from each other....

Repetition as a poetic device has always fascintated me. 

I often play with repeated phrases at both the beginning and ends of lines in my poetry. 

The repetition at the end of every second line is what first attracted me to ghazals even before I had realized anything else about their unique structure. (See previous post, Guzzling Ghazals.) 

Poetic repetition is one of the elements that fosters my love of the Biblical Psalms .  

My interest in repetition at the begining of lines was recently renewed and elevated, however, by a story that arrived in my inbox from the Kenyon Review Weekend Reads.   

I read the first three paragraphs and absolutely had to read the rest--propelled forward by the repeated word at the beginning of each sentence.  

This story, Beatitude by Kelly Loy Gilbert, which first appeared in KR Online Spring 2008 , begins :

Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.
Once, before I was even formed in my mother’s womb, God knew and loved me; before I was born he set me apart to be consecrated for his purposes.
Once, when I was eight, I learned in Sunday School that no one knew the day or the hour that Christ would return to earth and so before I got out of bed each morning I used to say “I know Jesus will come back today” so that he wouldn’t.
Click here to continue reading this story.

Repeated words are powerful.
Repeated phrases push our power forward.
Repeated  words challenge us to see, hear and discover something new in the familiar
Repeated phrases build up energy  and electricity and movement
Repeated words... 

 Click here for additional information about anaphora and more sample poems.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities      

Reread the examples above in which anaphora or words repeated at  the beginning of  sentences, lines and paragraphs for poetic effect are modeled.

Select one of the phrases or words from the samples  to use in your own narrative, essay or poem or select from the following list:

I love
I hate
I know
I don't know
I believe
I want to say
I want to forget
I never will forget
I remember
I do not remember
Do you remember 
I cannot forgive
It annoys me
In the beginning

Now rewrite the same piece without the repeated elements.

How does this change your writing?  What are the differences you notice?

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