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Greetings, all. Hedgewitch (Joy Ann Jones) here, and  I ‘m guest hosting Poetics this time around for Brian Miller, who has kidnapped his wife and taken her off to an undisclosed location for a well-deserved extended birthday weekend.

Humphrey Bogart in 'Casablaca,' where my misquote for "Play it again, Sam," originates.

Okay, this post has absolutely nothing to do with Humphrey Bogart, or Casablanca, except that I stole his famous line to the piano player in Rick’s Café Américain for my own nefarious purposes. I’ve titled this prompt ‘Say it Again, Sam’ because I’ve been impressed lately by how many poets do just that: say it again, repeating a word or a phrase, or even parts of either, to emphasize what they’re trying to do with their poem.

Poets routinely use many ways to deliver and enhance their words: rhyme, meter, enjambment, alliteration, and poetic forms such as the sonnet, haiku or villanelle as well. One of the most ancient and effective poetic devices is the use of repetition. You can find it working its hypnotic magic in everything from music such as folk ballads and the blues to modern rock, from bardic oral history and the drama and poetry of the Classical era, to every kind of form and free verse in modern times. It can be used intellectually to underline an idea or thematic concept, such as this little snippet from Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot:

“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.”

or to speak purely to our emotions, as in the following classic evocation of atmosphere by a poet we all most likely read in middle school, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is a good place to start, because he used repetition frequently in his works, as in his more famous poems, The Raven, with it’s reiterative catchphrase of “quoth the Raven, “Nevermore,” and more extensively (some might say too extensively) in The Bells.

Here in Ulalume,  he begins by setting the scene:

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere-
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir-
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Here Poe draws the reader into the world of the poem by repeating structurally the construction of the line beginnings, ‘the skies were,’ ‘the leaves were,’ ‘it was,’  ‘in the,’ and so forth, and he repeats an echo in almost every line of its predecessor: ‘crisped and sere,’ becomes ‘withering and sere.’  the ‘dim lake of Auber,’  becomes the ‘dank tarn of Auber,’  and so on, tolling the place names like a mournful bell, and building a mental picture with them. Many of the individual vowel sounds are also repeated, in and out of the rhyme scheme. He continues this throughout the poem, intensifying as he goes, till he reaches the poem’s climax:

And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb-
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said- “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied- “Ulalume- Ulalume-
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Here the dirge-like repetition of the (very alliterative) dead Ulalume’s name is used for dramatic effect, to immerse the reader in the emotions the poet is trying to convey, his sense of the past, and of loss. Poe’s use of repetition is always consistent, usually rhymed and very obvious to the reader.

In this piece of free verse, by the modern American poet Charles Bukowski, the approach couldn’t be more different. It’s called 2 Flies, and you see a much more subtle use of repetition, barely noticeable, yet insistent:

“The flies are angry bits of life;
why are they so angry?
it seems they want more,
it seems almost as if they
are angry
that they are flies;”

Repetition here is used in a circular way, to bring the reader through an image to an idea. Later in the same piece Bukowski utilizes it once again, but in a different manner:

“…and they join
in circling my hand,
strumming the base
of the lampshade
until some man-thing
in me
will take no more
and I strike
with the rolled-up-paper –
missing! –

Here the repetition is both subtle and direct, with the use of the –ing suffix predominant, finally emerging in the impact of the last quoted lines, giving them a sense of power and finality.

I’m sure everyone has their own favorite example of repetition, as it’s one of the most common and effective of poetic devices and it would be difficult to find a poet who hasn’t at one time or another used it. The trick, it seems to me, is not to overuse it, and render the words banal or meaningless.

So the prompt today is to write a poem where the poetic device of repetition is an important component to the structure. You can repeat individual words, sounds, lines or phrases, even couplets or stanzas, and utilize as many other poetic devices such as alliteration, rhyme, meter or whatever, as desired. You can write in a repeating form, such as pantoum, triolet,  roundel or villanelle, or in free verse. The possibilities are endless.

Follow the steps below to link up with dVerse, and have fun repeating yourselves!

  • Post a poem to your blog,
  • Link your poem to dVerse (1 poem per poet, please) by clicking on the Mr.Linky button below.
  • This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog url and entered your name, click Submit.
  • Don’t forget to let your readers know where you’re linking up and encourage them to participate by including a link to dVerse in your blog post.
  • Visit other poets, and see what they’ve done with the prompt.
  • Spread the word on the poems you enjoy if you’d like. Feel free to tweet and share on the social media of your choice.
  • Enjoy this chance to play and experiment with us in the dVerse sandbox.