A quick definition: anadiplosis is a rhetorical figure in which the last word (or phrase) of a clause is repeated at the beginning of the next clause, like this:
The love of wicked men converts to fear;
That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both
To worthy danger and deserved death. (Shakespeare, Richard II)
Anadiplosis is often climatic, describing a sequence of causation, building towards Something Big, as is the case with our example.
But poets are wily, and have employed anadiplosis in non- and anti-climatic ways. As I discussed in this post, Wallace Stevens uses it to embody his poetics of transformation. For Laura Riding, the technique serves to demonstrate a failure built into the very fabric of language, how seemingly important names degrade into mere words.
Innovative as these examples are, they did not prepare me for how anadiplosis is used in Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s poem “Experience in Groups,” recently published by the Boston Review. You can read it in its entirety here. It’s long and challenging, and I won’t attempt a full reading of it. As best as I can discern, the poem explores how “everything / Touches everything else” and the ways we often take contiguous things and arbitrarily assemble them into something that seems cohesive. For example, feelings:
Departs the time in which it lasts
For another point on the graph…
Days: ”One day hate-rhymes with the next.” Even cells: “All my cells are pages stamped.” Things hold together, even when they don’t really belong together; we fret about things falling apart, but as the poem points out, parodying Yeats: “Things stay together, the center can hold.”
The poem also investigates the opposite, and equally arbitrary, tendency we have to separate and divide things, such as groups of people. Here’s where the section employing anadiplosis comes in:
Far from being climatic, anadiplosis here shows how things bleed into each other, how “complicity” is, etymologically speaking, a kind of fold (literally, “folding together”); how borders are not only lines on the map, but also the cause of long TSA lines; how those lines can detain us, or how we may, after standing in those lines, be detained by the TSA; how, waiting in line, we “camp out,” and how being from outside a certain country’s borders can land someone in an internment camp.
Beyond this blurring of lines, formally speaking, the lack of linearity is emphasized by the multiple appearances of “detention at a border,” disrupting any sense of sequence.
The poem has obvious political resonances, though I’d be hard pressed to state, in blunt terms, what position it advocates. In any case, that’s unlikely the point. Instead, O’Brien compels us to reexamine how we put things together, how we separate them, and where we draw the line.