Forms of Repetition

Alfred Nicol

Tension is such an important element in all of the arts that we can’t imagine any of the arts without it: the tension between gravity and the dancer’s body, between the expectation set up by the first bars of a piece of music and the variations that soon replace it, between the way a plot seems to be going and the sudden shift that alters its direction, between the mood of a painting or a poem and the surprising element that shatters it. In fact, can art exist without that slightly risky edge of possible disappointment to endow it with consequence and, yes, fun?

One of the oldest and most fundamental ways art creates that necessary tension is through the use of repetition: repeated patterns that seem to promise the reader/viewer a measure of stability and order that is pleasing to both the senses and the intellect, but that the artist is then careful to vary, withhold, fracture, return in altered form, and otherwise deny, at least temporarily, until the close. The pleasure in such uses of repetition reside in the beauty of the repeated patterns themselves, but even more so in the almost-erotic give-and-take between expectation, partial fulfillment and eventual satisfaction, and in the discoveries to be made in the process.

The so-called French Forms—many of them not French at all but rather from the prosodic traditions of many cultures—have been popular for centuries as intricate games with language that often use their sophisticated play to convey, with apparent lightness, some of the least “light” aspects of life. Some have been called obsessional forms, others perfect mechanisms for encapsulating memory, still others brave little dances in which the human spirit faces down the inevitable.

In this workshop, the poet is invited to bring whatever he or she has, whether the poet likes it or not, that bears repeating, see what the poet can make of it, and compare the results with the musical obsessions of other poets living and dead.

Alfred Nicol ~ Extended Biography

Alfred Nicol has written the lyrics for nine original compositions by classical/flamenco guitarist John Tavano. The CD, released in January, 2015, is titled The Subtle Thread.

Nicol’s book of poetry, Elegy for Everyone, published in 2009, was chosen for the first Anita Dorn Memorial Prize as “a work of complex vision and stylistic mastery.” He received the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award for an earlier volume, Winter Light, of which Jay Parini, biographer of Robert Frost, said, “This is certainly among the finest new volumes of poetry I have read in years.”

In 2011 Nicol contributed a sequence of dream-notations to a book of images created by his sister, the artist Elise Nicol: the collaboration is titled Second Hand Second Mind. In 2009 Nicol, Tavano and poet Rhina Espaillat recorded the CD Melopeia (poetry recited with musical accompaniment).

A member of the Powow River Poets since 1999, Nicol edited The Powow River Anthology, published in 2006.

Nicol’s poems have appeared in Poetry, The New England Review, Dark Horse, First Things, Atlanta Review, Commonweal, The Formalist, The Hopkins Review, Poetry, and other literary journals, as well as in Contemporary Poetry of New England and other anthologies.


Sponsored by the Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets