Monday, December 10, 2018


This week we are chatting with Wendy Bourke, of Words and Words and Whatnot, about the use of repetition in poetry. Wendy did some research and put together this article about how to make our poems more effective by employing devices such as repetition to good effect. Pour yourself a cup of tea and let's dive in, for some good information and inspiration!

Sherry: When Wendy recently posted this poem, I loved it so much I wanted to feature it as a Poem of the Week. Wendy suggested we use it as an example of the use of repetition in poetry, and offered to put together an article on the topic. As I am SO grateful for ideas and assistance for my features, I accepted with alacrity. So let's read on, and absorb some very useful information. Here is the poem that sparked this chat.

I was the one

I was the one who was first – in my class – to get glasses.
I was the one who memorized snippets of poetry – and
lied about it. I was the one, my father called 'Bird'. I was
the one who made tissue paper poppies in all the wrong
colors and had imaginary sword fights and practiced
yodelling, while I dressed for school. I was the one who
wouldn't step on a crack and gagged at the smell of oranges
and walked on my toes – though it hurt like the dickens.

I was the one who crossed my eyes, whenever I was taken
by surprise – and – despite my granny's fervent predictions
they would stay that way, forever ... I was the one spared
that googly-eyed fate. I was the one who didn't catch
the baton. I was the one who had to stand in the corner,
when the boy behind poked me in the back to ask what
page we were on.  I was the one who tripped into a hornet's
nest. I was the one, most often, told to 'Sit still' and 'Shush'.

I was the one who worried for days, that a tree was growing
in my tummy after I accidentally swallowed an apple seed.
I was the one who talked with an English accent when we
played board games and tied my shoes with bunny-ears and
and couldn't snap my fingers. I was the one who got hiccups
from pop ... that threatened to never stop. I was the one
who held time in my hands, catching the sunlight  – just so – 
on the crystal of my mother's watch, a lifetime ago ...
that was me

                                            … I was the one


Sherry: I resonate with every line of this, Wendy. I was an awkward child, freckle-faced and plain and falling over my feet. I remember my mom's disapproving face, turned towards me so often. My Grandma used to threaten my face would stay that way, too, when I frowned. I credit them both for my sunny disposition! LOL.

I loved every line of this poem! And I adore that your father called you "Bird". That is so sweet.

Wendy: I'm so pleased that you enjoyed my poem 'I was the one', Sherry. It was a fun piece to write.

The message of the poem is that we – all of us – carry bits and pieces of our childhood with us, all the days of our lives.  I suspect that those remnants show themselves in a host of ways – most of them, tucked away from consciousness .  And yet, they subtly influence our likes and dislikes ... our responses to that which we encounter in our daily comings and goings ... our foibles ... our insecurities ... and – even, perhaps – that which gives us joy.  I really enjoyed casting back to odd little eccentricities and entanglements from my childhood.  The exercise conjured up a plethora of memories.

Sherry: Me, too! There is rich ore to mine back there. 

Wendy: But I also found that it was so delightful working with repetition.  As you can see, there is a lot of it in 'I was the one'.  I wanted to infuse the poem with a sense of childlike vulnerability.  As well, I thought the words 'I was the one' conveyed a sense of naiveté reminiscent of a child's confession – as opposed to an adult's admission.  

I haven't written a poem with a lot of repetition in it in quite some time, and it summoned forth a host of divine recollections of so many incredible works I have read over a lifetime, that were filled with wonderful repetition.  And thus, I thought I would take this opportunity to put together:  'A Few Notes In Praise of Repetition'.  I am sure that there are multiple Ph.D. dissertations devoted to the myriad of qualities that repetition bestows upon poetic works – there are so many splendiferous ways that this fantastic literary device  gives our poetry wings.  So I must try to rein myself in ... a lot.  

In poetry, repetition can be a word, a phrase, or a full sentence,   I recently, discovered there are 11  ways (in terms of placement) in which repetition can appear in poetry – most of them with lovely exotic names.  Literary Devices
 lists them, and provides explanations and examples.    

Repetition can identify a theme and/or add emphasis,  It can create cadence and rhythm and structure.  It can add irony and/or juxtaposition and even, at times, humor.  It can be stirring  or haunting – melodic or hypnotic.

Many (in some cases, centuries old) classical poetry forms, are constructed using repetition as a central literary device.  Throughout the 20th century to current day, repetition continues to be an important creative vehicle for poets.   I was somewhat surprised to learn that Dylan Thomas's '
Do not go Gentle into that Good Night' (1947) is a Villanelle.  The repeated title/opening line builds up the emotional impact, while adding meter. 

Robert Frost's '
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' (1922), is a Rubaiyat.  It uses repetition sparingly, repeating an indelible line a mere two times, at the close of the piece.   And yet, what a haunting echo –  ' And miles to go before I sleep' –   leaves with all who read those words.

In Maya Angelou's brilliant poem, ‘Still I Rise’ (1978
) repetition is used to stunning effect.  The repetition of  'I rise' feels much like a mantra; an invocation that regardless of oppression, prejudice and hate – we will succeed.   Repetition, indeed, continues to be a feature in contemporary poetry. 

In the poem '
Wild Geese' (1986),  Pulitzer Prize Winner, Mary Oliver, begins the piece with anaphora repetition –  which is the repetition of a phrase at the start of lines.  Specifically, she opens with the words 'You do not...' and repeats those words at the start of the next line.  This creates an intensity, out of which the rest of the poem cascades.  

Sherry: Wendy, this is so interesting. It is intriguing to picture the poets beginning to write these famous poems. We are so used to reading and accepting them as they are, we forget that, like us, they sat down with a blank piece of paper, chose a form and wrestled with it, just as we do.

Wendy: I have been reading a lot of poetry lately, Sherry, and find myself, truly, blown away by repetition and the cornucopia of awesome effects  that poets, through the ages, have been able to achieve with this remarkable, multifaceted and layered  literary device.  What would the breadth of our poetry be, without it?

Sherry: You have reawakened my interest in forms, Wendy. My favourite is the pantoum which, for some reason, comes to me more easily than others.

Wendy: For those poets who are interested in exploring repetition a little more, I highly recommend  the Society of Classical Poets website,
 which features really clear info on how to write classical poetry (Villanelles, Sestinas, Triolets, etc.), most of which are built on the various types of repetition.  On a personal note, I have found, The Society of Classical Poets is very supportive of poets working with classical forms.  

Sherry: Thank you so much for researching this and putting this together for us, Wendy. We poets can get in a rut and forget to challenge ourselves to work a little harder on our poems, challenge ourselves to try forms, whether difficult or easy. You have fired up our engines for 2019, which is coming ever closer - a new year for sharing poetry in this wonderful community. Thank you for the inspiration!

Wendy: Thank you, Sherry, for giving me the opportunity to exercise a few brain cells.  I appreciated  learning a little more about repetition and am intrigued by all the – newly awakened – possibilities it has conferred upon my poetic 'tool kit'. 

Sherry: Me, too! And thank you so much for gathering and sharing this information. We appreciate it so much

Wasn't this a lovely chat, my friends? Are you as motivated as I am, now, to tackle some thorny forms and wrestle them into submission? 

This was our last feature of 2018. Next week I will post a seasonal wish for you to enjoy our down-time however you and your family traditionally do, at this time of year. We will be back January 6th, 2019 (wow!) with the Poetry Pantry, followed by a bright and shiny feature to start the new year off. Do come back and see who we talk to then. (Hint: It is a very well-known poet that somehow I had missed interviewing until now. You won't want to miss it.)


  1. Sherry and Wendy, I read your exchange while sipping tangerine leaf tea, grinning, and nodding my agreement over and over.

    Wendy, I love the poem. Like Sherry, I can see so much of myself in it--except for the bit about standing in the corner (alone) paying for someone else's crime (I was a bit of a terror while growing up, so I'm sure things would've gotten much worse if that kid hadn't gotten in trouble too, lol!

    I completely agree with your points on repetition. When done well, the technique adds a kind of intensity that turns into a mantra... or a growing scream. It's one of the reasons why I fell in love with Sylvia Plath's "Mad Girl's Love Song", the repetition sounds like the heartbeat of someone whose heart only comes alive during very precious moments.

    Thank you both. This was purely delicious.

    1. I am blown away by 'Mad Girl's Love Song'. I agree, Magaly, when 'done well' repetition - like a mantra - can take us into a another place of being.

  2. We are so happy you enjoyed it, Magaly. I so love the idea of a poem sounding like "the heartbeat of someone whose heart only comes alive during very precious moments."

  3. Thanks for sharing so much about repetition in poetry! I really enjoyed. 'I was the one" I could see my reflection in the poem in most parts.
    Thank you also for sharing information about Society of classical poetry.
    It was a great read! :)

    1. Absolutely - check out the Society of Classical Poets website … wonderful poetry and an awesome resource for poets.

  4. The examples you give, including your own, make this article rock! Thanks, both of you.

  5. I'm so appreciative of your presentation of this helpful material, Wendy. Thank you so much. I have been to the Society's website a few times, now. It is a wealth of information. I discovered forms there i had never heard of. Fodder for prompts! Cool.

  6. Thank you, Wendy and Sherry. It was good to be reminded of this device, in all its versatility. And what a lovely read!

  7. Dear Sherry and Wendy, I so enjoyed reading about repetition. In the visual arts, when an element doesn't fit, sticks out like a sore thumb, we learn to repeat it. And we continue to repeat it, until it fits perfectly, maybe it is true with poetry, too?

    I did enjoy your poem, and remember reading it before. Perhaps we all feel, "We were the one?"

  8. Thank you, Sherry and Wendy, for this very wonderful article.
    I have used repetition and refrains before in my poetry, without really realising what a great tool it is and its full impact. This article helps me to better understand, and appreciate this device. :)

  9. Wendy, thank you for this informative and inspirational article. I've been so resistant to writing in forms that challenge me - a sign of my poetic laziness. Hopefully, I'll be more open to learning more this coming year.
    I love your poem. The repetition does add to its flow and impact. It made me think of my own awkward quirks as a child.
    Sherry, thank you for posting such an interesting article.

    1. Form poems can be tricky. But I have found - conversely - that they can be very beneficial in setting a bit of a direction when I am feeling uninspired. They, of course, require your words to land on the page in a fairly strict pattern. But beyond that, certain forms work in certain wonderful ways.

      Sonnets often embrace universal themes such as love or compassion. Rhupunts imbue pieces with a melodic quality. Rubaiyats often speak to a contemplative theme with splendid imagery. Villanelles are usually strongly emotional. Rondeaus have a lovely lyrical tone - be it joyful or sad. Limericks, with their historical basis in drinking songs, work well with humorous or risqué topics ... and so on. So, while they can be challenging. they do help to set a note and a direction, for a poem, when the poet is in the mood for a bit of an assist ~ smiles ~

  10. I really enjoyed this, Wendy and Sherry. I do like the technique of repetition too. Ha, often I write poems with repetition just because it seems to come naturally to me. Repetition really drives the point of a poem home, I think. I really did enjoy the poem "I am the One." The repetition worked well, and the words of the poem made me reflect on things I remembered from childhood. Thanks, Sherry and Wendy, for this feature.

  11. I love that poem too, as it resonates for me. I was an awkward child till I hit my teens and stopped falling all over my feet, LOL. Thanks for sharing it, Wendy, and all of this good information. I must be brave and try more forms in the new year.

    1. And thank you Sherry for highlighting my little poem (about me, no less ~ smiles ~) and giving me the opportunity and incentive to look into an aspect of writing, that I had been meaning to delve into more thoroughly. It was fun! Thank you, as well, for all the work you (and the others at Poets United) do, for our Community of Poets.

    2. It is our pleasure. Without each one of you, we would not be here!

  12. Wendy I adore your poem...brings back so much and is so effective using repetition. And I am glad you have given us so many resources. I love repetition but never deliberately use it. It just comes out. I will definitely look forward to reading these resources and explore it more. And Sherry thanks for bringing this to us.....I agree, I need to also challenge myself with my writing, and hope to do that more in 2019.

  13. Sherry and Wendy, they are just beautiful. Repetition gives a sense of rhythm that dances eloquently at every step. It reads like a song not wanting to stop.Your poem Wendy brings out those moments that one and all can identify unto himself while growing up. Enjoyed it Ma'am. Thank you both, Sherry and Wendy, two of Hank's favorites!


  14. Wendy, thank you so much for this lesson on the power of repetition. I feel like I snuck into a master class for free.

    That poem struck a chord in me too. I identified with every echo because "I was the one" in my family.

  15. It so nice to see Wendy featured. I enjoy her poetry so much. I too like to use repetition in my poetry, especially when I have a point to make. It adds another layer of magic to the verse.

    Thank you both for sharing!

  16. A wonderful feature, dear Wendy and Sherry. I could relate so much with this poem, specially that 'apple seed' incident. In my case it was lemon & orange seeds. My grandpa was the one to put that idea into my head. Love how you made repetition work in this poem, Wendy. Thank you ladies.

  17. I remember reading I Am The One at Wend'ys blog and reading it her again was a double take of delight. Happy to meet Wendy again in this up close event
    Thanks Sherry and Wendy

    much love...

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