My favorite forms are the ones that practically write themselves, not just your paint-by-numbers double dactyls and copy-and-paste pantoums (I love you, pantoum, you are so beautiful, don’t be reading too much into this post. Call me sometime, ok? Double dactyl, I know you’re actually hard to write if you don’t have a good hook, but still, you have to admit you have more rules than lines.) But my favorites are the forms that get your brain moving as if by magic. Well, the anaphora is just about the best technique for this, and by the way, one of the most powerful.
Anaphora is the repetition of the first words of a phrase with different endings. Same start, different successive words. It’s used all over the place. Seriously. You can find it anywhere from jingles, to pop songs, to post-apocalyptic science fiction, to the central text of the Civil Rights movement.
Examples do a great job of describing things so here are some examples:
“I’m not afraid to die. I’m not afraid to live. I’m not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid to succeed. I’m not afraid to fall in love. I’m not afraid to be alone. I’m just afraid I might have to stop talking about myself for five minutes.” – Kinky Friedman, When the Cat’s Away
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. — Elie Wiesel, Night
In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:
– William Blake, London’
Right before writing this entry, I sat down and quick wrote out a poem using Anaphora to demonstrate how fast they can be written (10 minutes): Andrew. But if you know me, you know I wrote These Are My Pants. So. There’s that, too. (NSFW.)
If you pick the right repeated words and control the output, you can craft fantastic pieces. Better than spin art and a snap to clean up.
Jon Goode has a great poem using this device that contains the phrase (something like) “a woman so black,” but I can’t post it because I have not found a you tube or text of it and there hasn’t been a response to facebook messages. (If you find something public, let me know and I’ll update this.) That one is well worth finding — hits hard, funny, and compelling.
For the featured poet and poem we turn to Mary Fons, with “I Am So Young” posted on the Indiefeed Performance Poetry podcast. This poem shows how the repeated phrase can become heavily charged by the process.