Given that thinking about repetition has enabled me to write some verse, I’ve been half-looking for the way that it has been used by others. I recalled my favourite Neruda poem “Explico algunas cosas” ably translated as “I’m Explaining a Few Things” by Nathaniel Tarn. I could go on for a very long time about how good this poem is and how everybody should read it but instead I just want to draw attention to the end of the poem which repeats the same sentence twice. The sentence is “Venid a ver la sangre por las calles” which Tarn renders as “Come and see the blood in the streets”. The only difference between the repeats is in line length and punctuation:
Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
enid a ver la sangre
por las calles!
This is an echo of the startling “and the blood of the children ran through the streets / without fuss, like children’s blood” which occurs halfway through the poem.
So here we have a poem which is about the Spanish Civil War and which uses repetition to give emphasis to one particular horrific image. Whether this ‘works’ or not is open to debate but it had made enough of an impression on me to remember it for twenty five years without actually re-reading the poem.
We then move on to the entirely different case of Jeremy Prynne. I think in a previous post I’d referred to a poem in the “Word Order” sequence that seems to make use of repetition-
He took his chance
first right he took
no chance first
at the front gate
or no right
chance to take
to first front
gate right gate right
they take no front
a cloudless sky
(There should be a bigger gap between the third stanza and the last line but WordPress won’t play ball).
Being deeply shallow, I have in the past described this as a ‘riff’ and have gone so far as to take issue with John Wilkinson’s much more complex explanation. I don’t intend to offer any further interpretation here other than to point out that a lot of words do get repeated in a very few lines.
Whilst thinking about this I realised that the word ‘same’ can denote a repetition and that this word is used somewhat bafflingly in “Streak~Willing~Entourage~Artesian” and that I’d put off thinking about this use whilst trying to work out what Prynne is saying.
So, I had another look- this is the first poem in the sequence:
Inside the tight closed box off it was it was out
a same summer box oh then at must closed on all
or maybe often maybe open to one side glaze be
in part to spill affirm parted along a rim ballast
Ready known, the same on over the way up be aim
superflux be fillip finger tight eddy cluster for
test the cover to seal better by close not closed
in her cone practice modify. To maul the out-sign
More at blanket turn, prior the blanket, over out
side did tear or torn smatter hot shut right off
tipping exclusion . Same day mainly deprive rank
serve for service, at same hours total. Deeper
Fold to box to fill to undersell nor roving shame
spelled got hurt by a burn. Same too fast joined
by the flap cover trickle or stream cut solid then
cut your hand the close hand perfectly yours for.
Recital to side, same with to side livid in part
newly profuse did civic offer on a dial, sweep
flight oh disposal profligate buck more in and
ready. Tantric cube up tight seam, signal limit
Galvanic who will meet who would, as to camber
one side slipped over close fit: alter presume
that shutter way, his also servile blank package
the box befitted frank aside simulate by adoption.
The attentive among you will recognise that there is a fair amount of repetition going one here in addition to the frequent use of ‘same’.
Every now and then I try to give myself a break from Prynne and immerse myself in other stuff, I especially try to take a break from “Streak~” because thinking about it fills up my head and I do have a life to lead. However this repetition coincidence proved far too attractive for me to ignore. The first thing to note is the bits that are repeated as well as the use of ‘same’. I’ve made a list:
it was it was
a same summer box
maybe often maybe
the same on over the way
More at blanket turn, prior the blanket
did tear or torn
serve for service
at same hours total
same too fast
at your hand the close hand perfectly yours for
Recital to the side, same with to side livid in part
who will meet who would
There is also the frequent use of ‘box’, ‘tight’ and ‘side’ to consider.
In the past I’ve put forward the view that this sequence is in part ‘about’ the recent civil war in Ulster and this is further justified here by the use of blanket which I’m taking as a reference to the blanket protest carried out by Republican prisoners at the Maze prison in response to the British government’s decision to deny them political status. This led eventually to the hunger strike at the prison which killed ten men.
This, of course, is nothing more than a guess but it’s a guess that’s informed by bits from other parts of the sequence and I have yet to come across anything that points in another direction other than the ‘same plastic fervid embankment’ in the third poem.
Without venturing into possible meanings for any of this poem, it is profitable to look at the way that certain words are used. We start with something being inside a box that is shut tight and that this thing is said to be both ‘off’ and ‘out’. Things get much more complicated on the second line with the appearance of a ‘summer box’ that might be closed on all sides but also may only be closed on three, the fourth side being glazed.
Prior to opening the OED, I threw ‘box ‘ and ‘same’ around in my head and it occurred to me that a lot of British political thinking about and attitude towards Ireland hasn’t changed in any significant fashion since the 16th century and a lot of our dealings with the Irish stems from the same set of false imperial perceptions which have caused conflict to repeat itself in the same way through the years.
I then started to wonder about ‘box’ as a more abstract term, as a rigid way of thinking- to be creative is said to involve thinking outside the box. I then decided that box as a kind of imperialist way of thinking was probably far too pretentious and speculative. I then turned to the OED.
There are 21 definitions of box as a noun, excluding the botanical definitions (which I’m going to ignore) and some of these are quite helpful-
“A space enclosed within borders or rules, esp. one to draw attention to a heading, an announcement, etc.”
“An enclosed area heavily defended in all directions.”
” A case for the protection of a piece of mechanism from injury, dust, etc.”
” A box-like shelter; a hut, or small house.”
“to be in the (formerly a) wrong box : to be in a wrong position, out of the right place. to be in a box (colloq.): to be in a fix, in a ‘corner’. So to be in the same box : to be in a similar (unhappy) predicament.”
I think that all of these have some potential in pointing to what Prynne might be referring to. It could also be that he is referring to several of these definitions at once. For my purposes the last of these seems a good place to start- being in the same box is to be in the same unhappy predicament. It could be argued that all three of the main groupings in the civil war were stuck in a similar and unhappy predicament.
Feeling rather pleased with myself, I again tried to make sense of the first two lines and was disappointed that the above leg-work had not yielded revelatory results. Still not able to identify this thing that is said to be both off and out and unable to determine whether ‘summer’ relates to the season (as with ‘same day’ and same ‘hours’ in the third stanza) or to one of the other definitions although ‘one who makes a summary’ might get us somewhere.
This is at least progress of a kind, I no longer think that box=bomb and the repetition ‘theme’ is becoming intriguing because of the different forms that it takes. I’m also painfully aware that I can persuade myself of a meaning because I want this to be the case. At the moment, for example, I’m a bit carried away with the imperialism box trapping everybody in one unhappy predicament. Then again, a new understanding of ‘at must closed’ might change all of that…
The next method of approach is to think about what repetition hopes to achieve and see how these fit into the above.