Poet's Choice

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, June 25, 2006

Everyone shares the impulse behind poetry. When we grunt in surprise, or yell with the crowd watching a game, or curse at a bad driver, or coo at a baby-- we are giving voice to a feeling. And that vocal, expressive action goes beyond merely defining the feeling: The meaning depends not just upon the words but also upon how they sound, literally and figuratively. Sometimes, the sound is not exactly a word: Oh hey-nonny-nonny. Ooh fa-la-la-la-la. Kitchy-kitchy-koo. Sound expresses feeling.

Rhyme may be the most obvious demonstration of that principle in poetry, but rhyme at the ends of lines is only part of a matrix of sounds. In Sally Ball's first book of poems, Annus Mirabilis , the haunted agitation and desire are made clear and forceful largely by the sounds, with end-rhyme only part of the pattern.

Night Dances

I thought I lived outside such music,

watching my beloved, yes, sure, gripped

or loosened, loosening and tightening his grip--

but there are darks into which

I find myself unloosed, pitched.

The chords thrumming in my chest a sick

careen from settled to unloosed.

It seems serene enough at first.

Fine to be wakeful and attentive, lost

at heart inside some song, aroused,


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