The presence of rhythm is one of the greatest contradictions of my life.
One of my earliest memories as a child was riding in a car, listening to the only radio stations that broadcast at night in Shiprock, New Mexico: those that played traditional Navajo music.
Traditional Navajo music has an insistent rhythm, as you can hear in this video:
I believe that listening to that music as a toddler imprinted on my mind a need for rhythm. (I say it’s a contradiction for me, however, since family and friends will tell you I cannot dance or even clap on beat to a song.)
But rhythm is an essential part of good writing, I am convinced of that. While I cannot reproduce it with my body, my ears and my mind crave it.
I see this need in the eyes of children when I present poetry programs to elementary school students. One of the poems I recite to them is in Spanish, “Rima Siete,” by Bequer. They don’t have to understand a word of the poem to be entranced by it. Never in all my years of reading that poem to wiggly children have I seen a single boy or girl move during the reading. The rhythm alone captures their minds and creates an urgency. And when I tell them that the poem is about a harp sitting alone in a room, waiting for someone to play it, they audibly exhale with relief.
Similarly, in music, the “cranking up” of notes creates yearning in the listener’s mind that is only relieved when the “tonic” is achieved.
One of the ways that novelists can incorporate rhythm (and oh, this is such an inexact quality of writing!) is through repetition. Another is by choosing words that by their short length convey haste or choppiness; or iambic multiple syllables that convey insistence or compulsion. A third way is by creating parallel structure in phrases or sentences.
Satisfying rhythm is best identified in its absence. You hear that absence, feel that absence, in a string of words that are blunt, thudding, wracked, when describing grace.
It troubles the tympanum of your soul when rhythmic, wave-like writing depicts violence or chaos or injustice.
Can you provide an example of writing that used rhythm in a way that was satisfying to you?