Repetition In Poetry

Rebecca Hazelton believes that an emphasis on anaphora – the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive verses – can lead to a better understanding of poetry:

Many of my beginning students enter the classroom with little previous knowledge of poetry, and some are already convinced that poetry is entirely foreign to their experience, possibly old-fashioned, and certainly not reader-friendly. At some point in their education, they’ve been persuaded that poetry operates via some sort of signifying code to which they don’t own the key. Convinced their attempts can’t possibly approach those of “the greats,” they feel defeated before they begin. They complain that they have nothing to write about, that poetry is hard, then dutifully produce the metaphors they feel are expected: hearts, flowers, love. Just like all expected things, these poems offer no surprises.

My more advanced students have other difficulties. They’ve been trained to avoid needless repetition, and have responded to this well-intentioned restriction by forgetting the “needless” part, using little to no repetition at all, producing poems lacking musicality. They’ve also become so focused on the minutia of word choice that they aren’t thinking as much about the overall structure of the work, resulting in poems that are carefully crafted, line by line, to no great consequence.

For beginning students, anaphora can be used to demystify poetry, to encourage concrete details rather than abstractions, to combat “I can’t think of anything else to write about” syndrome, and to encourage bolder experimentation with metaphor. For more advanced students, using anaphora reinforces these skills as well as encourages thinking about the overall structure of a poem and the importance of knowing when too much is enough.

Related Dish on the subject here.