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Books Noted: Ellen Bryant Voigt, The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song


Graywolf Press, 2009

In this fascinating prose book on the poet's craft, Ellen Bryant Voigt looks at syntax in poems, relating it to all of the integral formal elements of poetry. Voigt writes about syntax, "This structure—this architecture—is the essential drama of the poem's composition." By looking deeply at poems by Bishop, Frost, Kunitz, Lawrence, and others, Voigt demonstrates the ways in which this architecture shapes the motion of thought and how the motion of the sentence can live inside the room of the poem. Voigt's careful descriptions and analysis help the reader develop awareness of the formal role syntax can play in a poem. Voigt establishes her groundwork with a brief and engaging discussion of linguistics and language acquisition. Throughout the book, she also refers to Robert Jourdain's analysis of music, and the metaphor of music is a helpful one. Voigt delves deeply into specific poems to show the different ways in which syntax can align with or torque against meter, phrase, and line. This book is perfect for anyone who wants to hone the ability to read carefully and open up all the fascinating syntactic movement at the heart of poetry.

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