Creativity and repetition: Abstracts of two recent papers

1. Abstract of 2012 paper, ‘Poems: wonderfully repetitive’.

In this chapter I try to tease out the connections between literary creativity and that seemingly most uncreative of strategies: repetition. I argue that repetition is central to literariness and literary creativity, but that, clearly, not just any repetition will do: some kinds of repetition work
brilliantly, others we generally agree are disastrous. How to distinguish the wheat from the chaff? Looking at what many have judged to be a fine poem and a feeble one, I will propose that
there is all the difference in the world between informative and enriching repetition (often found in great poems like Heaney’s ‘St Kevin and the Blackbird’, discussed at length) and redundant, movement-destroying repetition (equally often found in bad ones like William McGonagall’s–all of them). I argue that some basic distinctions may underpin effective and disastrous lexical repetition: full adjacent lexical repetition and longer-distance full or para-repetition can be crucial to the creativity and focussed coherence of a poem.  By contrast, textually-proximate repetition by reformulation, rife in McGonagall, is damaging on several Gricean and aesthetic accounts.

2. Abstract of 2015 paper, ‘Poetry and Poetics’:

While poetry cannot be defined absolutely with criteria good for all time, two features are argued to be especially important in English poetry as conceived today. One of these is creativity, understood here as a poem’s fitness of textualised expressive response to a newly-emergent purpose, thus one of which the reader was unaware. A second major factor, it is argued, lies at the core of the poetics of poems, a phenomenon which seems entirely at odds with creativity: repetition. Repetition, of various kinds, suitably refracted and inflected, is more important to the poetics of poems than to any other language genre. Lexical repetition and para-repetition, in particular, impose on the reader an experiencing of arrest, of concentrated recurrence and reconsideration and reinforcement of propositions and mood. In a great poem like Elizabeth Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses”, discussed here at length, all the lexical repetitiveness generates implicatures, and these enrich the background of associations the reader can make. As in poems generally, the repetitions-with-modulations in this poem also foster iconicity effects, where the particular choices of linguistic form feel, to the reader, to match so well the meanings intended that they seem to embody them.


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