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The Chant

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

Liturgical Verse

The Chant is from Latin cantus, meaning song, but this genre of verse dates back far beyond the days of Homer and Virgil. As most verse, it began as an oral tradition and it probably was heard echoing off the walls of cave dwellers in prehistoric times. The chant is verse in which a word, phrase, line and rhythm is repeated again and again. The repetition is strong and the rhythm hypnotic. But it didn't get left behind in the caves, more modern verse forms or poetic genres have employed elements of the chant, such as the blues and slave or prison work songs.

Although the chant can be an attempt to call up power for the individual, it can also bind a community in its solidarity. 60s poets such as Jerome Rothenberg and Anne Waldman explored and included the "primitive" chant in some of their work. Rap is probably the most current form to utilize the chant.

The defining features of the Chant are:

  1. repetitive, usually a word, phrase, line, a rhythm is repeated over and over.
  2. musical, it should contain a rhythmic beat.
  3. written without a beginning, middle or end.
  4. rhymed at the discretion of the poet.

    Calendars Chant for Four Voices by Annie Finch

    Shout! by Judi Van Gorder

    Tell it to the sun
    ----- I've just begun
    Tell it to the earth
    ----- I've found rebirth
    Tell it to the moon
    ----- I sing love's tune
    Tell it to the trees
    ----- I laugh with ease
    Tell it to the earth,
    -----the moon, the trees
    Tell it to the sun
    ----- I've just begun!

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