Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

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Ros
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Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Ros » Thu Mar 05, 2009 6:52 pm

Repetition can be a tricky business in poems. Often the second presence of the word reduces the energy at that point as well as at the first appearance of the word. At the same time, however, repetition can accumulate the music and the feeling.

Repetition is naturally rhythmic; words are set in motion by their recurrence. Waves breaking, a clock pendulum swinging, the pumping of a bicycle – regular patterns of sound create an expectation that the sound and pace will continue. And repetition is dramatic. That a line or word – or sometimes an image or idea – recurs signals that the writer thinks it bears repeating. Unless the sound is repeated too often or goes on too long, our attention is held Each nuance of repetition has a slightly different effect.

In the syntactical repetition seen here, a sentence structure or a part of the sentence structure repeats. Syntax is the pattern of the word order in a sentence or phrase. Note the use of “if” and “you would” in the following poem:


If You Saw Me Walking
by Gerald Stern

If you saw me walking one more time on the island
you would know how much the end of August meant to me;

and if you saw me singing as I slid over the wet stones
you would know I was carrying the secret of life in my hip pocket.

If my lips moved too much
you would follow one step behind to protect me;

if I fell asleep too soon
you would cover me in light catalpa or dry willow.

Oh if I wore a brace you would help me, if I stuttered
you would hold my arm, if my heart beat with fear

you would throw a board across the channel, you would put
out a hand to catch me, you would carry me on your back.

I you saw me swim back and forth through the algae
you would know how much I love the trees floating under me;

and if you saw me hold my leaf up to the sun
you would know I was still looking for my roots;

and if you saw me burning wood
you would know I was trying to remember the smell of maple.

If I rushed down the road buttoning my blue shirt –
if I left without coffee – if I forgot my chewed up pen –

you would know there was one more day of happiness
before the water rose again for another year.


Depending on the context, repetition of a grammatical construction can be humorous, obsessive, insistent, or can portray other moods. For instance, the repetition of ten short declarative sentences makes a clipped, unequivocal sequence. Syntax has a psychological effect. Stern’s poem plays off our expectation of if constructions. If is usually following by a consequence – a then. We expect logic, but Stern steps around logic into playful and personal consequences of if. He repeats a pattern, but surprises us each time. Also notice how his couplets, though they depend on the repetition, are slightly varied throughout the poem to keep the repetition from becoming monotonous and too predictable.

When a syntactical pattern is repeated, in poetry or prose, there’s a reason. The writer wants to evoke a certain response. Sentences strung together with and and but and or have different impacts than four-word sentences. How many phrases are used, where verbs occur, what type they are – many syntactical choices are important to how the reader experiences the sentence.

Using the Stern poem as a model, write a poem that depends on the use of syntactical repetition. You may use Stern’s if-then construction, or some other syntactical repetition of your own choosing. The subject of the poem may be anything you wish, but choose carefully with an eye toward a subject that can bear this much repeating. You may utilize couplets or some other form. Remember to vary the repetition slightly to keep the poem from growing monotonous and predictable.


~ Text and exercise adapted from “The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems” by Frances Mayes
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by nar » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:42 am

OK - This seems to be open to noobs too, so I'll dig myself a little sandpit in the corner.

When a cell became two,
only then could they be,
When the sun filtered through,
only then could they see.

When a fin became foot,
only then could they walk.
When a gill became lung,
only then could they talk.

Then they smelt, then they stood, and they ran.
They whooped when they climbed and they swang.

When they played with a flint it sparked,
only then could they vanquish the dark.

Only then, everything changed.
They loved, and they thought and they built.

...<snip>...

OK, OK - I'm stopping now.
The 'poem' is boring me, but the excercise has been worthwhile.
I wrote that quickly on the train, just to see what happened
The lesson for me was:
Repetition is indeed tricky, and trying to use any constraint makes me revert to old form.
I think I'll return to this idea at some point, once I've got past poetry 101.

Thanks Ros. Very useful.
War does not determine who is right - only who is left. (Bertrand Russell)

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by David » Fri Mar 06, 2009 2:26 pm

nar wrote:OK - This seems to be open to noobs too, so I'll dig myself a little sandpit in the corner.
Absolutely. The more the merrier.

That's a good idea for a poem there as well, Neil - and a good start. I would carry on with that.

That's the great thing about these exercises - they give you ideas that might not have occurred to you spontaneously.

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Ros » Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:05 pm

Glad you found it useful, nar, and thanks for diving in.
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by bodkin » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:26 pm

And at that time...

When I first awoke,
and at that time...

When I first awoke,
the sun in the room with me,
and at that time...

When I first awoke,
a fresh breeze blowing,
and the curtain unstill...

And with that first waking,
and at that time,
the smell of coffee...

And on first waking,
with the sun in the room,
the fresh breeze
from the window -- now opened --
the smell of coffee
already brewing
and at that precise moment
everything was well
and I knew you were still here.
http://www.ianbadcoe.uk/

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Ros » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:42 pm

Nice one, bod. I think it captures that rather fuzzy vagueness you can get on first waking, when you can only handle one thought at a time. And then, suddenly, it's a love poem, which is rather sweet.
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Sharra » Tue Mar 10, 2009 8:57 am

Not our fault

We didn’t mean it, honest.
I want you to know
those things we said
about your charity-shop mum
were just a laugh.
We didn’t mean it, honest

when we pulled your hair
and you got detention
the whole pack of us sticking
together like sweat, swearing
she started it Miss.

And the words we chalked
outside your house
were just a game, we knew
the rain would wash them away
And it’s not like we really meant them
not really, honest.

And when we pretended
to be your friend, whispering
your secrets to the class.
We were just messing around.
It wasn’t our fault.
If we’d really wanted to hurt you

we’d be laughing now , while they’re telling us
about the bus, while they’re telling us
that you won’t be going to school again

not ever.
It is at the edge of the
petal that love waits

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by BenJohnson » Tue Mar 10, 2009 12:34 pm

It was 10:15
when he stepped off the bus
and into the rain.

It was 10:15
when she stepped aside
twsisted her heel, began to fall

It was 10:15
when the crowd gathered round
their huddle mass sprouting hands.

It was 10:15
when the driver looked across
10:15 as the girl began to cross
10:15 as he hit the brakes
10:15 as I checked my watch
no longer worried about running late.

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Sharra » Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:07 pm

Ben, I liked that, you have something worth working on here. It felt a bit Frank O Hara with the times in it.
Sharra
x
It is at the edge of the
petal that love waits

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by BenJohnson » Wed Mar 11, 2009 8:54 pm

Sharra, not sure if that is a compliment or not :lol: Frank O'Hara is another I struggle with some of his writing is spot on and other pieces I'm scratching my head. Not sure this one will grow beyond this, just an exercise that repeat is tough to get a hold on.

Thanks for the challenge Ros.

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Pauline » Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:59 pm

How far would you go if you loved someone,
how far would you go my friend?
I'd go all the way to the end my friend,
I'd go all the way to the end.
How deep would you go if you loved someone,
how deep would you go my friend?
I'd dive all the way till my lungs would burst.
I'd dive all the way to the end.
If your lungs did'nt burst, and you swam to the shore,
how far would you go my friend?
If I swam to the shore, I would crawl all the way,
I would crawl all the way to the end.
Would you give up your life in the end dear friend,
Would you give up your life for a friend?
I'd go all the way to the end dear friend,
I'd go all the way to the end.

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by bodkin » Mon Nov 02, 2009 9:05 pm

Hi Pauline,

An interesting take on this exercise. I wonder whether repeating the end-rhyme all the way through isn't detracting from the repeated phrases? It might be interesting to try it mixing up the line-ends but leaving the line-starts repeating.

Good to see you here,

Ian
http://www.ianbadcoe.uk/

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by Pauline » Mon Nov 02, 2009 9:41 pm

Hi Ian.
I'll have another go. Your right. It is a bit much is'nt it. Thanks for your feedback.

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Re: Exercise: "Repeat after me..."

Post by tool » Thu Dec 03, 2009 5:26 am

pauline don't change it;

i thought it was wonderful

intelligent it was like ringing bells

and ros wanted reptition;

tool don't change

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