April 06, 2012

Conquest and Repeated Words…

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.com/Conquest-Zoe-Brigley/dp/1852249307

Someone asked me recently about the repeated words that appear in Conquest, and I am posting my answer here. I recently created a Wordle to see exactly which words are repeated most in the book.

Conquest Wordle

It is certainly true that repeated words like ‘garden,’ ‘window,’ ‘long,’ ‘flower,’ ‘never,’ and ‘dreams’ feature prominently in Conquest. I have always liked repetition in poetry: the sense that in reading an entire book you are circling round and round the same ideas. I think that’s why I chose to use the sestina form twice in this new book. You can find out more about the sestina on poets.org .

There are two versions of a double sestina form in Conquest – I say versions because each stanza has fourteen lines like a sonnet, and fourteen repeated words, so it’s a hybrid form different to those used by Swinburne and Sidney . The first (found in the ‘Conquest’ section from p. 35 to 43) uses the words (with variations in brackets):

Conquest

*plot (plotted, plotting);
*land (onland, Disneyland, scrubland, dreamlands, garlands, land-burning);
*fat (fattening, fatten, fattened, fattest);
*gold (golden, golden eyes, gilds);
*graph (cartography, sonograph, autograph, geography, photographs, choreography);
*man or men (bondsmen, woman, ottoman, kinsman, women, workmen, figure, cattlemen);
*earth;
*cell (sells, call);
*script (description, inscription, conscripts, scripture);
*bear or bore (harbour, harbouring, born, borne);
*thing (nothing, anything, everything, something);
*shore (onshore, shore up, shoreline, sure, lakeshore);
*colony (colonists, colonies, colonise);
*and one wild card for words that had something to do with the body: most often I use ‘mouth’, but I also use ‘teeth’, ‘burst’, ‘tongues’, ‘faces’, ‘lips’, ‘open’, ‘hair’, ‘touch’, ‘body’, and once I use the word ‘bereft’ which is an obvious cheat but was necessary for the poem.

There are words related to geography (land, earth, shore) and the civilizing of place (colony, plot). Some of the words relate to the greed of imperialism (gold, fat), and to the suffering that it causes (bear, cell). There is also a feeling in some of the words that the protagonists are trying to chart a course away from such an oppressive way of living (script, graph, thing). This is a physical journey too , as indicated by the bodily words in the wild card list.

The second version of a double sestina is ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ sequence, and the repeated words (with variations in brackets) are:

*garden (gardener);
*year (yearly);
*day (today, Sunday, daylight, weekday);
*plant (planted, plantations, replanted, transplanted, Jardin des Plantes, planting, pieplants);
*time (thyme, night-time, mistimed);
*flower (flowers, Mayflower, flour, fleurs, marigold, flowering, flowerbeds);
*sweet (sweetest, sweetcakes, sweetnesses, unsweetened, sweeten);
*wreck (wreckage, wrecked);
*out (outside, outed);
*window;
*walls (walled);
*and a wild card for words related to the senses: mainly I use ‘tongue,’ but on two occasions I use ‘eye,’ and once ‘marmalade.’

‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ is a poem about recuperation and healing. The epigraph from A Midsummer Night’s Dream reads: “It fell upon a little western flower, / Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound.” There are repeated words related to growth (garden, plant, flower), and to obstacles that prevent growth (walls, wreck). Words related to the passage of time (time, day, year) indicate that this is a slow process, but there are rewards (sweet, the sensual wild card list) and possibilities of escape (window, out).


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