Repetition as Conjuring, as Litany, as Prayer

by Cecilia Llompart

(1)

The inimitable Annie Finch said, “Repetition is a physical force, not a mental one…” I doubt my ability to put it more concretely, but I’ll add that I definitely find repetition to be the most powerful physical force in a poem. The one which grounds us to the earth whenever the imagery and other forces at play would have us lingering in the clouds. It can make a poem more tactile, more responsive to the touch. It’s important for a poem to exist out in the world, rather than just in our heads. Important for it to have legs to stand on, as well as the wings on which it will rise. Perhaps a repeated word acts like a series of weights holding the rest of the bright canvas down.

(2)

The truth is, we learn nothing if not for repetition. The human brain is hardwired to respond to it above all else. A soldier’s drills rewire the instinct, train them to run towards the battle rather than—as sense would have it—away from. An actor’s rehearsals sync up every step with every word, so that the show can—as they say—go on despite the most rattling disturbances. A musician’s recitals introduce them to muscle memory, the only reliable way of remembering, the idea that we can count on our fingers and hands and sinews and bones even when the mind—as it so often does—fails us. From infomercials to meditation to rituals to sermons. . . Repetition—be it tedious, or soothing—has been used to teach us things, to sell us things, and to help us remember them in a real way.

(3)

I navigate my poems by instinct rather than by intention. I guess you could say I follow my ear. Every so often, while working out a line, I’ll find myself ending or beginning the following line with the same little flourish. I don’t set out to do it, and I don’t always see it coming. When it happens I tilt my head as if to say: I’m listening. At this point, the poem is trying to tell me something. I’m no longer holding the reins. I’m holding a metal detector and I’ve stumbled upon a mine. And the repetition will feel refreshing if it connects the writing to some deeper truth that exists—that reaches—beyond the work.

(4)

In the case of my bat poems (in AGNI issue 85), I closed my eyes while writing them and, instead of envisioning an existence for the animal in which everything was dark, a world in which it had no alternative but to swim through the absence of light, or to dodge the many shadows of things, I saw instead a world in which everything was a distinct shade of blue. As such, the word “blue” is referring to an ultimately different color each time it appears in the bat’s catalogue of sights (some of which are, obviously, also sounds). I hope the reader can see that—that a color can be more than a color, can be a variation unto itself.

Call it a disability, like blindness, or a disorder, like synesthesia, if you like. But the fact that a being uses its senses in a way we don’t understand doesn’t make that creature’s way of interacting with the world inferior to ours. I suppose that’s what I was trying to express in the other poem, with the string of “I see you.” Call it echolocation. Call it dreaming, or delusions of grandeur. The bat makes a point of seeing, of its ability to see, whether or not we share a definition of seeing, whether or not we underestimate the small prophet. This animal is a visionary, it sees beyond seeing, it knows that what is essential is invisible to the eye, that sight itself can be blinding, can distract us from hidden truths.

I can’t say whether the repetitions will achieve all of this.

But I’m content if the poems stay with you longer than a poem usually does.

(5)

I don’t remember when I first learned the word litany, but I do remember how beautiful I thought it sounded, and I remember how right it seemed that a thing like the use of repetition in poetry should have its very own word to reference it. The exact definition of litany involves other words meaning “supplication” and “prayer.” The word please comes to mind, as a word that comes to us when all other words have left us, when we are feeling hollowed out. A word that leaves us humbled even as it escapes our lips. Please. Perhaps repetition itself serves to humble. Perhaps it serves to bargain. But I think it can also serve to empower. To give us courage in a moment of fright to brave the flight.

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Author PhotoCecilia Llompart was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Florida. Her first collection, The Wingless, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in the spring of 2014. Her poetry and prose have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. She is the recipient of two awards from the Academy of American Poets, a fellowship from The Dickinson House, was a finalist for The Field Office agency’s 2016 Postcard Prize in poetry, as well as a finalist for the 2016 Tomaž Šalamun Prize given by Verse journal, and lastly a winner in Neat Streets Miami “Growing Green Bus Stop” Haiku Contest. Find out what she’s published in AGNI here.

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15 thoughts on “Repetition as Conjuring, as Litany, as Prayer

  1. Allen Hagar

    6/5/17

    Excellent! The truth is not always beautiful, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find the possibilities embedded in the shoulder of the road, a try of a way, a way of being bold.
    Congratulations. ABH

    Like

    1. Allen Hagar

      6/13/17

      Hi. I review the blog and I can see the repetition secured tightly within the body of the writing, as if to highlight the nature of the tool. Like a good book, a tome, a Bible, the working of the theme like a good poem, a fine piece of writing. The distance in her eyes as the work takes on new facets like a reworked jewel, cut to size and seasoned delicious. Very good. ABH

      Like

  2. Allen Hagar

    6/7/17
    Hi: A wonderful and illuminating article on the workings of the poet’s mind, clear, lucent and enlightening. The reflections of the moon and the shine of the twilight’s stars and planets. Very good. ABH

    Like

  3. Allen Hagar

    6/11/17

    Yes, please, the plea of poetry to be whole and complete, a set of pleas to hold onto the reins that rule our world and a plea to be real and true. Truly. ABH

    Like

    1. Allen Hagar

      6/11/17

      The reign. The rain reigns supreme. The repetition agrees with me, I see the possibilities and I shuffle the cards already played on the table. I believe I can see the master’s work at hand. Congratulations and thank you! ABH

      Like

      1. Allen Hagar

        6/12/17

        Hi again! I like the rain. Apollonaire wrote adoringly of it. “Il pleut” in the French. Lines of poetic lines streak the page, leaving little footprints on the sheet, sheets of rain falling across
        the page, a need to read French. The French rain. Very good… ABH

        Like

  4. Allen Hagar

    As I suggested before, I agree, repetition need not bore, see Sylvia Plath rhyme the same word three times in a row, wonderful! ABH

    Like

  5. Allen Hagar

    6/12/17

    Wonderful how you stay focused on the theme of writing. The various permutations of repeating verse (or prose), is understood and welcome. I look forward to more precision
    guided ordinance on the craft and life-work of poetry by such a talent as yours. ABH

    Like

    1. Allen Hagar

      6/12/17

      And don’t forget the two poems on bats (in winter and in autumn). Wonderful finds in AGNI 85, an excellent issue of poetry and writing. ABH

      Like

      1. Allen Hagar

        6/13/17

        Hello again. If you haven’t read AGNI 85, you are missing out on a treat. Delectable. The two poems by Cecilia Llompart stood out in my second reading of the issue. Wonderful work. The entire issue is replete with good work. Congrats! ABH

        Like

  6. Allen Hagar

    6/12/17

    And I love the repetition of words spelt the same but sounding different. I think of “Les litanies de Satan” by Baudelaire, with its reference to torn clothing and tears of pain. The tears are but the tears of the eyes, a rag, a handkerchief, the cut and torn tears of the wearing. ABH

    Like

  7. Allen Hagar

    16/12/17

    I am still amazed by the coherency of the writing, a blog on target, consistently on the mark, a writing of excellence, logical and invigorating, the struggles I find in my own work sometimes revolve around that sense of a continuous theme that connects the details into a whole. Best wishes in your own writing. ABH

    Like

    1. Allen Hagar

      6/13/17

      The cohesion of the writing is a joy to read; a logic to see; and a love to believe in. The character of the entries is fundamental, the repetition is embedded in the structure, within the bone skeleton of the writing, a new post-modern writing. Congrats!

      The pleas of the conclusion are a new form of repetition, please keep up the good work. The parallel tracks are a railroad yard in Cooks county, Chicago, Illinois. Busy, but not idle busy. ABH

      Like

  8. Allen Hagar

    6/13/17

    I continue to be amazed by the parallel tracks your poetry takes, a path less taken alongside a busy highway. The line about bright canvas being weighted down is in parallel tracks with a bright canvas (drip painting) waited down by intentions to dry. Hallelujah.

    Like weights in a series, the stones wait for a response to the new poetry. Jackson Pollock would be proud!

    Like

  9. Allen Hagar

    6/13/17
    Hello again. I found a gem! Embedded within the body of the work.

    “…sight itself can be blinding, can distract us from hidden truths.”

    How true. (worth repeating…). ABH

    Like

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