Pantoum

 We’ve been working on pantoums in my poetry class. Here is a description of the form. I’ll be posting examples from students this week.
AND READERS–feel free to send me pantoums of your own to add to the blog!
 ***

 THE PANTOUM. We’ll venture into the room (stanza literally means
room in Italian!) of the quatrain through the compelling Malayan form of
the PANTOUM. This repeated form sounds very sophisticated but is actually a
pleasure to write. We’ll look at how lines repeat, and why this form is
good for really obsessive subject matter.

The basic form of the pantoum is the four-line stanza or quatrain.

1. Write a four line stanza. Highly imagistic or emotional lines work
because the pantoum is a cut-up–you can’t tell a strict story with it.

2. Now let go of your sense of control!

3. The pantoum is based on repetons–repeating lines. Lines 2 &4 of a
stanza become lines 1 & 3 of the next.

Case in point:
Comet

A comet above my house LINE 1
I wear a dead man’s coat LINE 2
I can’t see the comet for the haze LINE 3
Clouds, snow, a waxing moon. LINE 4

I wear a dead man’s coat LINE 2 REPEATED
A Chinese merchant’s of finest wool NEW LINE 5
Clouds, snow, a waxing moon LINE 4 REPEATED
The night we said farewell NEW LINE 6

A Chinese merchant’s coat of finest wool LINE 5 REPEATED
Or the poncho you gave me second hand NEW
The night we said farewell REPEATED
For the first time, or the last time NEW

The poncho you gave me second hand
Wraps around me like a lover
For the first time, or the last time
I watch a movie about astronauts

Wrap around me like a lover
Men in a capsule hurtle towards earth
In a movie about astronauts
I’m crying about something else

Men in a capsule hurtle towards earth
This comet appears once a lifetime
I’m crying about something else
Everyone else has seen it

This comet appears once a lifetime
Above my laundry frozen on the line
Everyone else has seen it
Rising in the quadrant of Arcturus

Beneath my laundry frozen on the line
You say I have a presence
Rising in the quadrant of Arcturus
And the dead I can’t speak to

You say: the comet is a presence
I can’t see for the haze LINE 3 FROM FIRST STANZA, VARIATION
And the dead I can’t speak to
Blaze above my house. LINE 1 FROM FIRST STANZA, VARIATION
When I write a pantoum, I need to start numbering as I go. The great thing
about the form is that half of each stanza is already written–magic free
lines–so it truly overcomes writers block. If the numbers are confusing,
you can use a grid with letters.

TIPS:
medium length lines will work best
go on for as long as you can–this make nice 1-2 pg. poems
the form is good for obsessive, dreamy, unconscious subject matter
YOU CAN VARY the repetons (lines that function as refrains) a tiny bit for effect. Just don’t do it too much.

ENDING THE PANTOUM

Note in the last stanza you are left with two new lines, but also two lines
that have never been used–Line 1 and Line 3 from the first stanza. This
ending is to flip those lines and end with the first line of the poem,
which gives a great feeling of unity. I prefer this, but a variant is
equally good which is to end with Line 3.

Use whichever works best for you.
TIP: Make that first line a great one if you also end with it!

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Miriam Sagan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

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