I never wrote under any rules or guidelines – I would guess just from my experience traveling thru the education system in NYC and my reading habits, I’ve picked up some instinctive ways of writing and phrasing. The rhythm itself is my own – everyone who writes, from poets to sales people have their own rhythm. It’s a feeling of when something works and something doesn’t. No book can really teach you that.

So when I came across “anaphora” in an article over at the Poetry Foundation, I found it intriguing that there was actually a word for the process that I’ve long admired in powerful speakers and writers.

Rebecca Hazelton writes:

Humans are pattern-seeking animals, pre-tuned to the music of language. We are pleased when we hear patterns in language, perking our ears in recognition…(taking) advantage of our ability to perceive repetition…drawing student attention not only to sound but also to concrete detail, metaphor, and rhetorical movement

She offers examples of this musical phrasing and points to speakers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful “I Have a Dream” speech:

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Or Winston Churchill’s famous 1940 speech before the Commons:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

It can also be used in poetry to wonderful effect as show by a commenter in Hazelton’s article – an excerpt from the poem, Possibilities, by Wislawa Szymborska:

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.

read more button

Without realizing it, I’ve even used the technique in a recent quick piece I posted here

I’ve never been “trained’ in writing technique. The year that I graduated college was the first year that my alma mater began offering an MFA in creative writing. But I couldn’t afford the extra schooling. So I just go by my own rhythms.

Would it have mattered? I don’t know for certain if technique and phrasing can really be taught. Either you can play the song or not.

But I definitely would have enjoyed being taught to sing better…

Tweet that. Or not.

writing at desk