Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pantoum

Don't be scared! The pantoum form looks way more complex than it is! The beauty is a poem that's twice as long as the number of lines you write. The cool thing is that because the repeated lines will fall in different orders, you'll see new connections between the ideas and the meaning of words may shift in their new context.

The pattern is the even lines of one stanza become the odd lines of the next stanza. You write new even lines for the new stanza. The Malays, who invented this form, could keep this up for hours :-) You're allowed to stop with 4 or 5 stanzas :-) Here's the pattern to repeat:
One
Two
Three
Four

Two copied here
(new)
Four copied here
(new)

Repeat.
The last stanza pattern is slightly different. In fact you've already written the stanza. It's just repeats. Again, the odd lines are the even lines from the previous stanza. Then use the poem's first line as the last line of the stanza and use the poem's third line as the stanza's second line.

(There's also an imperfect pantoum where the last stanza's odd lines can be new (like the previous stanzas) or the last lines may fall in any order.)

Here's a summary of the tips from "Getting the Knack " by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford:
  1. Doodle six or eight words or phrases. If you're stuck, skim a book or magazine for something that interests you. Steal lines from your own poems.
  2. Once you have something that interests you, ask what they remind you of, and write that. The goal is four lines.
    • Think of each line as a separate unit. Not necessarily a full sentence, but a bit that can be shifted about without needing the line that followed it.
    • For now begin each line with a capital letter.
    • For now, leave out punctuation.
    • Be alert for messages the poem is revealing as you work, rhymes, rhythms, new meanings.
  3. When writing the new even lines, be aware of not only the previous line, but the next line.
  4. Try out various rearrangements of the final lines to see which works for you.
  5. When you look back over it, the words on repeated lines will be the same but feel free to alter punctuation or capitalization. (Eg, a word on one line may be a name in another line, or an added comma may alter the meaning.) In the pure form, that's all you can change. In "Getting the Knack" the authors suggest allowing yourself to change tenses and spellings but caution you not to solve all your problems with exceptions.
  6. Tinker. Play around with it. Read it out loud and look for rhymes and rhythms.
A pantoum doesn't need to rhyme, but Neil Peart of Rush did and turned it into a song :-) (Note, it's an imperfect pantoum. Line two of the last stanza is new.)
The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum)
by Neil Peart
from Snakes & Arrows by Rush

If we're so much the same like I always hear
Why such different fortunes and fates?
Some of us live in a cloud of fear
Some live behind iron gates

Why such different fortunes and fates?
Some are blessed and some are cursed
Some live behind iron gates
While others only see the worst

Some are blessed and some are cursed
The golden one or scarred from birth
While others only see the worst
Such a lot of pain on the earth

The golden one or scarred from birth
Some things can never be changed
Such a lot of pain on this earth
It's somehow so badly arranged

Some things can never be changed
Some reasons will never come clear
It's somehow so badly arranged
If we're so much the same like I always hear

Chorus, so not part of the pantoum form:

(Some are blessed and some are cursed
The golden one or scarred from birth
While others only see the worst
Such a lot of pain on the earth)
There are links to some more examples at:

Poetry -- Pantoum at About.com
Pantoum at Wikipedia
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