14 June 2011

How to Write a Pantoum Poem

A pantoum is type of poem that comes from Malaysia--it's basically a woven rope of repeating lines. It's made with quatrains in which the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next stanza.

And here's the real gem:

This spreadsheet lets you enter each of the original lines, and then it updates the repetitions automatically. That way, when you're revising (and it'll NEED revising), the process goes much more smoothly, with the form doing lots of the work for you.


Here's an example from Elain Equi (an excellent poet whose Ripple Effect we studied this semester). I've illustrated how the lines repeat by labeling them with letters:


A Date with Robbe-Grillet by Elaine Equi

(A) What I remember didn’t happen.
(B) Birds stuttering.
(C) Torches huddled together.
(D) The café empty, with no place to sit.

(B) Birds stuttering.
(E) On our ride in the country
(D) the café empty, with no place to sit.
(F) Your hair was like a doll’s.

(E) On our ride in the country
(G) it was winter.
(F) Your hair was like a doll’s
(H) and when we met it was as children.

(G) It was winter
(I)  when it rained
(H) and when we met it was as children.
(J)  You, for example, made a lovely girl.

(I)  When it rained
(K) the sky turned the color of Pernod.
(J)  You, for example, made a lovely girl.
(L) Birds strutted.

(K) The sky turned the color of Pernod.
(M) Within the forest
(L) birds strutted
(N) and we came upon a second forest

(M) within the forest
(O) identical to the first.
(N) And we came upon a second forest
(P) where I was alone

(O) identical to the first
(Q) only smaller and without music
(P) where I was alone
(R) where I alone could tell the story.


If you want more examples, Verse Per Se has a nice list of pantoums.