Day 4: Repetition and refrain

Yesterday’s exercise was hard for me. Did you try it? I felt really excited when I saw all the words reversed, but then I had trouble making them into anything anyone could read. Maybe I had trouble letting go of the original poem.

Today, let’s use repetition to get us into the poem and add power.

True confession: I spent years avoiding repetition–not wanting the same noun or verb to appear even twice in the same poem. I still strive to avoid inadvertent repetition. But today’s exercise is not about that.

Repetition is comforting to the reader or listener (“Ah, I know this! I’ve heard it before!), and I find it’s also comforting when writing, because it provides an automatic scaffolding on that blank page.

First, let’s try anaphora: try repeating a short phrase, especially at the beginning of lines. Yes, it can be a list poem, or very much like one–or not! One example of a poem using anaphora is “A List of Praises,” by Anne Porter. Or “October (Section 1),” by Louise Gl├╝ck, where the repeated word is “didn’t.” And then there’s “Jubliate Agno,” by Christopher Smart and “Jubilate Agno,” by David Lee.

Some words to get you started:
If (or If not)

Or choose a word that already appears once or twice in your poem. Celebrate it! Use it again! How far can you stretch it?

Then, can you add a refrain, a line that appears two times, or more? My favorite example of a poem that uses a refrain is “Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100,” by Martin Espada.