Personal History and the Power of Repetition

Personal History and the Power of Repetition

A Poetry Prompt from Nathan McClain

Using as a template Gregory Pardlo’s “Written by Himself” (from his book Digest), in which variations of “I was born” begin many of the lines, McClain asks his writing students to introduce themselves via the poetic method of repetition known as anaphora, with a repeated phrase of their own choosing. Pardlo’s poem begins this way: “I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet / whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye; / I was born across the river….I was born still and superstitious…” McClain asks students to include in their poem what they wish others to know about them, specifically by way of detail and image.

We hope you’ll give McClain’s prompt a try, and we welcome you to share your poem in the WTP Poetry Forum.

Read Sara London’s interview with Nathan McClain in Poetry Central.

Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017) and a recipient of fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Frost Place, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Currently, he teaches at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, as Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing & African American Literary Arts. He has previously taught creative writing at Seton Hall, Drew University, St. Joseph’s College, and for the Cave Canem Foundation. His poems and prose have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Poem-a-Day, West Branch Wired, The Common, upstreet, Foundry, and Matter, among others. He was born and raised in Southern California.

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