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Repetition, as a poetic device, can seem like a shortcut to making your poem longer, but it’s actually a multifaceted technique that makes your poetry shiny and reflective. You’ve heard of the poem about all the miles to go before that guy can sleep. You know the one where he’s trudging through the woods on a snowy evening. Ring any bells? No? Frost, anyone? Anyone? Celine Dion borrowed his line for a song; I even stumbled across a weightloss blog that lifted the phrase, too. The point is, repetition sticks in people’s heads, so they use it (even if it’s someone else’s line). People like it, connect to it, and feel all cozy and familiar because of it. That’s not a bad thing. You want your poem to be remembered, right? Throw a catchy line in it, then lather, rinse, and repeat every stanza or so.

Notice how Adelaide Crapsey uses the phrase, “properly scholarly attitude,” like an excuse, a weapon, a fault, a badge, and even an unattainable burden? As the inventor of the Cinquain poem, she knows her way around repetition in all sorts of manifestations. In this poem’s case, the meaning of the repeated phrase changes with every utterance due to its context.

As my “Dear Writer,” section of my poetry workbook and journal explains, REPETITION comes in different flavors. You can have the standard repeating of a word, phrase, verse, or more (think couplet/quatrain, etc.) You can also sprinkle a bunch of synonyms in your poem, and voilà, there’s a concept repeated. Patterns, rhythms—you name it—do it more than once, and check off this device as done.

The other thing you might want to know about repetition as an FYI thing is that it takes on specific (Greek and Latin rooted fancy-shmancy) names depending on where you plug your repetition into your work and how. (For example: Anaphora—a word or phrase that hangs out at the front of a line … Mesodiplosis—a word or phrase that hangs out in the middle of every line …) Shall I go on? Overwhelmed much? I’ll save the full-blown college course on all these types of repetition for another blog (or workbook) … Let’s keep it simple with what’s commonly referred to as a REFRAIN (which hangs out at the end of a stanza, like in Crapsey’s poem above) for this exercise.

Here are some one-liners you can use in your work, if you want, but no pressure, mm-kay?

… for all the reasons why.                                        

… because no one could.                                           

… underneath the shimmering stars.

… when I look into your eyes.                                  

… inside my heart.

… around the merry-go-round to me.                        

… before we knew it all.                    

… into the mist they went.                                       

… until the world grows wise.

… between the lines.                                                 

… where I find my place in you.       

… beyond the realm of reality.                                   

… behind the lies comes truth.

… somewhere inside my heart.                                 

… after the rain came to an end.        

… amid the burning embers.               .                                   .

Now, go forth, my suave poet, and use one of these prompts or come up with your own prepositional phrase to make some memorable poetry. I can’t wait for you to share your poetry with me!

~ Brooke E. Wayne



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Brooke E. Wayne: Romance with a Kiss of Humor

Inspired by Love and Laughter, Romantic Comedy Author