Phil Kaye, a Japanese-American writer, and spoken word artist whose marvellous works have been featured in The New Yorker to the Museum of Modern Art. With his charming and alluring story-telling ability, Kaye has performed his poetry across the world.
His works are often influenced by his childhood memories in dealing with a complex family dilemma. This reference is perfectly captured in one of his most popular poems, “Repetition”.
This poem tells a story of how a repetition of something can eliminate and dilute its power. Kaye uses this concept to erase the meaning of words in order to cope and deal with his parent’s divorce. He wished that with repetition, he could take the power of words that heavily affected him such as “I love you”, “separation” and “apart”. He parallels his childhood problem and his ability to dominate words as a poet.
Later in the poem, he tells how he developed a stutter which makes him feel every word’s meaning drag itself up his throat. He learns how repetition may increase the meaning of words.
This poem performance was showcased by Button Poetry. In collaboration with Poetry Observed, Kaye also produced a concept video performance of this very sentimental poem.
Repetition – Phil Kaye
My mother taught me this trick
If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning For example:
Homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework
Our existence, she said, is the same way.
You watch the sun set too often, it just becomes 6 PM
You make the same mistake over and over; you’ll stop calling it a mistakeIf you just
wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up,
one day you’ll forget why
Nothing is forever, she said
My parents left each other when I was 7 years old
Before their last argument they sent me off to the neighbor’s house,
like some astronaut jettisoned from the shuttle.
When I came back there was no gravity in our home, beds floating
I imagined it as an accident, that when I left
They whispered to each other “I love you” so many times over that they forgot what it meant
Family, family, family, family, family, family
My mother taught me this trick
If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning This became my favorite gameIt made the sting of words evaporate.
Separation, separation, separation;
Apart, apart, apart;
I am an injured handyman now
I work with words all day
Shut up, I know the irony!
When I was young, I was taught that the trick to dominating language was breaking it down
Convincing it that it was worthless
I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you;
Soon after my parents’ divorce, I developed a stutter
Fate is a cruel and efficient tutor
There is no escape in stutter
You feel the meaning of every word drag itself up your throat S-s-s-separation
Stutter is a cage made of mirrors
Every “Are you ok?
”Every “What’d you say?”
Every “Come on kid, spit it out”
Is a glaring reflection you cannot escape
Every terrible moment skips upon its own announcement
Over and over until it just hangs there,
floating in the middle of the room
I am not wasteful with my words anymore.
Even now after hundreds of hours of practicing away my stutter, I still feel the claw of meaning in the bottom of my throat.
I have heard that even in space;
You can hear the scratching of a
I-I-I-I love you.