In Apposition

In some of my earlier sonnets I tried to fit too much in. Every time I look at “Dissolution”, a very early work that was featured on a riverside mural, I am reminded of this. It was a historical narrative stuffed into fourteen lines. I have found the best works arise where I’m simply apposing two things.

One way to explain this is through a grammatical construction: the function of a semicolon in a sentence. You’ll either love or hate semicolons – punctuation’s Marmite. Apart from its more workaday function to separate a list of items after a colon or to replace commas in a long sentence, one of the more interesting functions of the semicolon is to signal apposition, that is, positioning one thing in relation to another. For example, “The restaurant was empty; it was just before dawn”. Note that each part should be able to stand alone as a complete sentence. The two parts may exist concurrently or sequentially in relation to each other.

There’s a similar process going on in a haiku where you only have a very limited number of syllables, some say seventeen. There, after some seasonal reference(s), a concluding thought may be some of anachronistic or contracting object.

“Where the gentle wind breathes / The faint aroma of snow”,

“To hear a cricket singing/ Underneath the dark cavity / Of an old helmet.”

[Basho, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”]

An apposition could therefore be concurrent or sequential.


The trick is to find a good juxtaposition and limit yourself to that. What is a ‘good’ juxtaposition? Well, ideally not just any two things but where one provides a metaphor for the other. Connotations can leak across, one to the other, giving depth to their meanings. An example that I came across recently was Philip Larkin’s The Mower. Go have a look. I think this works well by juxtaposing a mechanical mower with a hedgehog and drawing upon their juxtaposed metaphorical forces. In one of my poems there is an example of an apposition that sums up the whole of the poem: “This plateau rises; a fabled realm ringed by ramparts”.


Equally, the apposition could be two moments placed side by side in the text, and the reader will subconsciously generate a sense of movement between these states.

20220902 In Apposition

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