Repetition in poetry can work, the oral tradition effectively uses repetition. It can, however, as easily limit a poem, keep it earthbound when you want it to soar.
Here is an example of what I mean. It’s an autobiographical poem. The events really happened, many years ago. In fact the poem was written in the 1980’s soon after the event it describes.
When I looked at it again recently, I was struck by the use of the word machine, it appears again and again throughout the poem. I did not like it. I felt the repetition limited the poem.
I had also been troubled by the last line. I had worried at it for many years. Never quite achieving what I wanted to say.
I also suppose it is of note because it’s the first poem I wrote about my father. There have been many more since.
I’d be interested to know what you make of it.
All that is recognisable are the reels.
These still spin determining loss,
Sometime fortune, mostly loss.
My father stands before the machine
Engrossed in the wheels motion,
As he did when I was little.
Then the device resembled a man,
Mechanism set into his chest,
The rhythm of loss named him;
A “one armed bandit.” Robbing all.
Though I could not reach the handle,
I understood those certainties.
I cannot follow this electronic sequence,
The room is hot and smoky,
The men drink pints,
Share a formalism of dress.
I do not know the conventions,
Am baffled by more than this bandit.
My uncle will be buried tomorrow,
I want to talk with my father,
Who is one with this distraction.
There is more than this machine between us
I suppose I should offer a word of explanation. A one armed bandit is an old name for a slot machine. They really did look like bandits from the Wild West when I was a child. My father played them obsessively. As they increased in complexity they became increasingly incomprehensible to me but it never phased my father.
You can see them. Lonely men,
Standing solitary on motorway bridges,
Fishing the traffic with their eyes.
Estimating tonnage, make of vehicle,
Wistfully dreaming destinations.
I hear they are there at night,
Hypnotised by the dazzle
Of people going places.
Do you ever notice the people that stand on the bridges over motorways and just watch the traffic? I have to confess that it’s not my idea of a good time, but I have always wondered why they do it.
Here is another old poem. I leave you to make of it what you will.
CRETAN HOLIDAY POEM
we cross the sea
sunrise on an aging shore
your ghosts follow
supplant the local images
your words empower
grant them immediacy
they wander through your dreams
you will not sleep again this night
it is the heat
it is the still air
they circle you
in the air that does not move
“let us occupy your waking thoughts
let us live inside your head”
I am awake
sleep is gone
you lost in the darkness in your head
I stare into the night
and dawn is a long time coming
Have a good week.