Poetry and repetition

The more I think about writing, the more I’m aware of how central repetition is to it – to lyrics especially, to poetry particularly, but also to prose and other genres. This might seem so obvious as to be banal; but I think there is often something left over from early education which encourages people who write to avoid repetition at all costs – as if there was a touch of ‘Just A Minute’ to the process of writing.

With the weekly ‘satirical’ poems I write on www.theweeklypoem.com, the repetition comes easily, and the poems which work best in performance are also those which hammer at a line over and over again. There’s a poem from two years ago on www.theweeklypoem.com called ‘Distinctive Mongolian Eyes’, and the repetition comes from anger. It relates to the Menezes case. The police officer/ not-so-special agent who had Menezes’ house staked out was relieving himself when Menezes came out. I am presuming, not stupidly, I think, that said officer was watching out for someone of Middle-Eastern appearance. But, he claimed, the most telling feature of the ‘terrorist’ he spotted (over his shoulder?) – the most giveaway thing of all, was that Menezes had ‘distinctive Mongolian eyes’. Menezes was Brazilian. The depth and confusion of the stereotyping is the worst I can think of. The phrase is repeated in the poem, like a hammer on a large nail.

But I’ve been trying to write a poem today which is not satirical, and which has no working title yet, just a working image: cabin fever. And as I was composing it (on to the screen, which is what I usually do, despite advising students not to get too addicted to this), the instinctive development was through repetition, of sound, the phrasing. It starts (this is Draft 1)

Everything is cabin fever:

the water pouts at the window, a great lake of papers

surrounds the desk.

That triple long ‘a’ sound (great, lake, papers) occurred naturally. So did the pout/ surround echo. I’ve learned a lot recently (thank you, Jane Draycott) about starting a poem without knowing anything about where it will go. When I wrote the first line, I didn’t know it would be raining in the second.

I might feel differently tomorrow, but I was pleased with ‘pout’ (I thought about ‘peck’, but discarded it, although the word re-surfaces later in the poem). It’s partly because it has that suggestion of disagreeable superiority about it, partly because it has that sound of occasional rain hitting glass. The idea of the lake came next, and that also seems right so far.


Good news, on an unrelated theme. ‘Record Collector’ says I have the 46th rarest LP, worth £800! Well, it would have been, if I hadn’t played it to death. It’s Led Zeppelin’s first album, and, because, trendsetter that I was in 1969, I pre-ordered it, I got one of the first 10,000 copies, the cover of which is green rather than red. I still remember hearing the two great whacks of the opening chords of ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ – and the extraordinary silence between them and the succeeding chords. Probably those are the very chords which have given me tinnitus: not all bad news (yet), since I like the white noise when I’m writing.

I also have the 160th rarest (£400, The Zombies) and the 174th (£350, Nick Drake). Or would have had if I hadn’t had a stylus like a tiny skating blade. I haven’t got no. 167 (The Beatles, ‘Rubber Soul’), though. The version which is worth £350 is worth that because the song ‘Norwegian Wood’ is spelled ‘Norweigian’. Perhaps I could find a way to raise the value of this bloig.


One Response to Poetry and repetition

  1. I tend to agreeI totally agreeI agree 100 percent with what you have written. Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject.

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