Friday, March 6, 2009

Making Music on "Seventh Street"


As I read Jean Toomer’s “Seventh Street,” I am drawn in by the musical quality of the prose poem/poem, mostly through Toomer’s use of repetition.  A quatrain opens the piece and closes the piece.  Toomer utilizes repetition throughout, with phrases like, “Who set you flowing?” and “black red blood,” seemingly rising through the narrator’s unconsciousness and onto the paper.  I felt that the piece itself mimicked the “unconscious rhythms” that the narrator mentions with the repetition of key phrases and the use of the quatrain.  But the music implied does not uplift the reader; if I were to transpose this to a song, it would most certainly be in a minor key.  The reader is kept in a cycle of despondence with phrases like “stale soggy wood,” “blood suckers,” and “crude-boned” keeping the mood dark.

But why does Toomer choose to open and close his prose poem with the quatrain?  The stanza gives the reader the impression that life on Seventh Street is quick: Cadillacs “whiz” down the street, presumably controlled by drivers who spend quick, with the money burning holes in their pockets.  I think the stanza also lends a cyclical quality to the piece.  Toomer chooses the word “eddying,” which implies a circular movement. “Seventh Street” swirls, eventually comes back to where it started, with the reader left to imagine that the rich, blood-red life on Seventh Street will continue in contrast to its surroundings for some time to come.   

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