I wrote a comment for this a while ago but I don’t see it now. From an auditory point of view, this is really powerful. What is going on to make it work so well?



incisively excised incisors flaunted

Entwined, end-bound

so closed to hearts

Then scarf them,

What is happening in there to make it “sound” like it does?

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Jan 9, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023Author

First off, thank you so much for being the first person to comment on my work here, and for your excellent substack! I'm glad you love this part - it is easily my favorite flow in the whole poem.

I'll analyze the rhythm and phonetics below, but let me start by saying that none of this was 'pre-meditated' in the moment, at least by me. Most everything I write is capturing an on-the-spot improvisation [perhaps worked out over a max of 5-20 repetitions of the piece]. On the other hand, it's quite likely the music I was listening to had a groove that this either matched directly or 'fit into' that I incorporated into the flow.

This is one of the reasons why music is one of my favorite tools for writing. One can easily incorporate fairly complex rhythms and patterns of timbre in the flow and phonetics.

Examining first the patterns of phonetics, I tend to engage in lots of internal rhyme and slant rhyme (I'll refer to this as a phonetic 'slur' going forward), in addition to using a limited phonetic palette at any given time. For example, there are exactly 11 unique phonemes used in the phrase "incisively excised incisors" (ɪnsaisɪvli ɛksa‍izd ɪnsaizɝz in IPA), and only an additional 5 make an appearance if we include fraudsters and flaunted on either side. Oddly enough, entwined, end-bound as a phrase also has exactly 11 unique phonemes.

Even stranger with the elevens, the spoken line "incisively excised incisors flaunted" has exactly 11 syllables, as does 'entwined, end-bound, so closed to hearts then scarf them". If we include fraudsters with the breath at the comma on the strong beat that allows the next line to have every word accented at the correct location on the strong beats of the poetic feet, we end up with 7 poetic feet for fraudsters through flaunted, and another 7 poetic feet from entwined through cott-on. If we look back, we see the same happening with "history's ex-stinks, distinguished monsters" having 11 syllables including the breath at the comma. Additionally, 7 of the 11 phonemes showing in 'incisively excised incisors' already make an appearance in the phrase "History's ex-stinks". which itself also has exactly 11 unique phonemes.

"and leave them sigh'nz / with only grit and self-reliance" also has exactly 7 poetic feet, which, without going back and analyzing the rest, may be where I initially establish the 7 poetic feet as a meaningful metric. "Valhalla calls for giants" has seven syllables (3.5 poetic feet), and so does "so closed to hearts then scarf them" and "it waits for those forgotten". If I had to guess, I'd say that it looks like I subconsciously am playing around with 5s, 7s, and 11s, and moving them between phonetic, syllabic, and poetic feet, all while shuffling them around and making sure that matching lines either share a number of phonemes, or a number of phonemes 'slurred' from the previous match.

As an example, 'f' and 'v' are slurs of one another, as are the 'k' and 'g' or 't' and 'd' sounds, but so are 'au' and 'ou' in flaunted and bound.

Examining the internally slurred rhymes for a second, we have fraud(sters) slurring into inci(sors), but also flaunted (frau-(d)/flau-nte(d)) with flaunted being a slurred fraud with 'nte' inserted before the d (with 'te' also making an appearance at the end of fraudsters). we also have, if we look at just the beginnings of the words, 'frau inci exci inci flau entwi end-bou', where you can see a pattern flow that modulates from the 'au' to the 'ou' and from fs and ts to bs and ds. "hearts then" slurs with "scarf them", "sters" slurs with "sors", and "-nted" from flaunted with slight slurring and inserted phonemes becomes "e(nt)wine(d)", e(nd), and e(nd)-boun(d).

Our verse can be structured in an ever-modulating way without needing to 'bore' or slip into nursery rhyme. In phonetic space, we can exchange rhymes for slurs, lean on internal rhyming and slurring, limit our phonetic palette and try to naturally 'modulate' from one palette to another by slurring phonemes, and use various simple transformations of words, such as insertion, deletion, shuffling, splitting, fusing, in combination with slurring, to yield an internal coherence that you can't quite put your finger on but that the tongue and ear cannot deny when spoken.

I've been working on a program to both formalize my understanding of the 'nearness' of phonemes (that leads to the internalized validity of relationships between words that don't 'rhyme' but somehow 'fit' together really nicely as in the excerpt you selected), and once that is finished my plan is to both turn using the above transformations on words into a game (to practice this kind of phonetic play), and add a plugin to one of my favorite text editors to automatically extract and colorize this kind of phonetic slurring and relationship between words so that it will be easier to see at a glance.

I think, longer term, that my plan is to mix articles on topics such as the above in with the poems, in addition to adding analyses such as the above for subscribers. I have a number of planned articles, and a large back-catalog of poetry - the hardest part is ordering them in a way that pleases me, so expect content to be coming out at a pretty regular pace for the foreseeable future. If you have a particular part of any other poem that I publish that you would like explained, please call them out in the comments - I'll be happy to include them in the 'analysis' article for that poem.

I'll close by saying that in a world where rhyme and consistent meter are passé, this does not mean we need to give up on either phonetic play or rhythmically consistent lyricism. I think that deep house with a great groove is an excellent example of how this can play out in rhythm and timbre space - always, always four on the floor, and yet somehow playing with all sorts of other meters super-imposed on top in a way that psychedelically slides the boundaries of perceived meter and rhythm, while flowing between timbral spaces with limited palettes smoothly and naturally.

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I learned a lot from this: slant rhymes, limited pheonme sets, and chains-of or nearness-of phonemes. I haven't looked at things in terms of phonemes yet. When you go to write something, do you have an explicit list of phonemes you are drawing from, or do you just note which you use and restrain yourself to a set as you go during editing?

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Jan 12, 2023·edited Jan 12, 2023Author

Those latter two will perhaps be more difficult to look up - based mostly on my own personal theories of 'nearness', but in answer to your question, I'd have to say neither? Usually I write in a more improvisational style -- occasionally going back and removing or flowing past a 'false start', but much more likely to treat what has already been written as unalterable, and merely continue it to the best of my ability. These continuations might, as examples, be following along directly with the rhythm and phoneme template established by the previous phrase or line, or slowly shifting sounds around to those 'nearby' while maintaining as much as I can intact, or even just noting the palette of phonemes I've just used and making sure to 'mostly' use those going forward (and if adding new ones, try to make them 'transformations' of old ones as much as possible).

This isn't so much of a 'go back and do later' as it is a 'as we are surging forward right now, try to apply a pressure against things slipping out of these constraints'. If the pressure of what needs to be said escapes the bounds of how you wanted to say it, and it is still powerful, then so be it - let the breaking of pattern itself be a demarcation of importance and emphasis, and consider either moving forward with this as the 'new seed pattern', or re-establish the previous pattern where you broke off.

Again, composing to music (especially wordless, with a heavy emphasis on rhythm) really helps. If you're trying to mostly flow with the grooves being established, you'll be naturally time-limited in what you write. At the same time, it will provide many constraints that might otherwise overwhelm with their dizzying freedom -- a groove to flow with or against, a sense of place and culture, perhaps even a primal story.

If you're paying attention, you might even notice phonemes in the timbre of the instrumentation. All that is left is whatever you wanted to talk about, and any other constraints you choose to add (mostly just really hearing the words you've already said) as you dive deeper into the 'Verse.

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This is the sort of thing I like to write about on my substack, but I feel like I'd just be stealing your words. If you wanted to turn this discussion into a little writeup, I'd be happy to post it on my substack and link to yours; or, I could take some quotes from here, attribute them to you, and link to this poem. Any interest?

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Jan 15, 2023·edited Jan 15, 2023Author

Definitely. Let me take some time to put this together into a more formal post, and then you can cross-post it on your substack. I have really enjoyed your previous rhythmic analyses. If you have any questions about excerpts from the other poems already posted, let me know in a comment on them, and I’ll go ahead and do those as well. Do you think a Sunday cadence for posting poems, with a Wednesday one for analyzing them is better, or the other way around?

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I usually post Tuesdays around 10pm or sometimes midnight because I have time on that day and it doesn't seem to hurt my view counts. I read some stats once that said Tuesdays and Thursdays, either in the morning or before dinner, are the best times to post, but I'm not sure what is best. Also, most readers are in different timezones than me, so it's not like I can time it that specifically. If the content is short (less than 1200 words), I figure daytime = try to get people to read it at work

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