A good poem not only tells a story or describes a feeling, it also has to touch our hearts through a kind of music. And like good music, it must have rhythm.
Do you remember playing jump rope and chanting special rhymes to help you jump in time with the slap of the rope? Here’s one of my favorites:
Jump rope, jump rope, will I miss?
Jump rope, jump rope, just watch this!
Jump rope songs are made up to follow the same rhythm as the turning rope and this little song does it beautifully. Can’t you picture the rope turning? Do you hear it slap the ground? The rhythm of the poem is caused by the repetition of the words jump rope. This technique of repeating the beginnings of lines is an important poetic tool called Anaphora. Anaphoric lines can be one of the least difficult ways of making a poem have “rhythm” or music.
Here’s another example of anaphoric lines from a traditional jump rope rhyme. Notice how easy it is to picture the turning rhythm of the rope as you say the lines out-loud:
My boyfriend gave me peaches,
My boyfriend gave me pears,
My boyfriend gave me fifty cents
And kissed me on the stairs.
I gave him back his peaches,
I gave him back his pears,
I gave him back his fifty cents
Clapping games, like jump rope, also use songs with anaphoric lines to create rhythm. Some of you may know this game, which uses the anaphoric phrases “pease porridge’’ and “some like it.” The phrases are each said three times, setting up a rhythm that allows each player to clap in rhythmic patterns.
Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.
Because the use of anaphora repeats the same words, it automatically sets up a regular rhythm for the song or poem. The poet doesn’t need to do anything more to create rhythm. Anaphora alone sets up its own beat or pulse. Notice how in this piece of Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, by the poet Walt Whitman, the anaphoric phrase “out of the” sets up a rhythm that is like that of a rocking cradle.
Out of the cradle endlessly rocking
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where
the child, leaving his bed, wander’d alone bare-
Anaphora is pretty easy-peasy, right? Just pick a word or phrase to begin each line of your poem and then repeat! So, now that we all know what anaphora is, it is time to practice writing an anaphoric poem. One such poem that is fun to try is called “A Mistake Poem” It is a poem in written in couplets that uses the repeating phrases of “I went to the” and “I made a mistake.” Here is an example:
My Mixed Up Monday
I went to the kitchen to get a drink
I made a mistake and broke the sink.
I went to the park to play some ball
I made a mistake that made me fall.
I went to the sub shop to get something to eat
I made a mistake and spilled food on my feet.
I went to my bedroom to go to bed
I made a mistake and banged my poor head.
As always, Magic Dragon loves to read the poems you write. So, send in your best anaphoric poems and we might even publish them.