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Pantoum

Think French Riviera and slow romantic moonlight walks down the beach at midnight, with the waves kissing the shore and the moon kissed sands softly rustling under the feet. If you are looking for a poetry form to capture such beautiful, slow and utterly romantic moments in time, think Pantoum.

A Pantoum is a dreamy form of French poetry which with its utterly charming repetitions creates a magical form of poetry, which cant be replicated by any other form. The structure of a Pantoum is very simple.

It consists of series of quatrains rhyming ABAB in which the second and fourth lines of a quatrain recur as the first and third lines in the succeeding quatrain; each quatrain introduces a new second rhyme as BCBC, CDCD. The first line of the series recurs as the last line of the closing quatrain, and third line of the poem recurs as the second line of the closing quatrain, rhyming ZAZA.

You can go as many stanzas as you wish as long as the ending stanza then repeats the second and fourth lines of the previous stanza (as its first and third lines), and also repeats the third line of the first stanza, as its second line, and the first line of the first stanza as its fourth. So the first line of the poem is also the last.

This is the format for the last stanza regardless of how many stanzas you have. This is cast in stone as far as Pantoum goes

Line 2 of previous stanza
Line 3 of first stanza
Line 4 of previous stanza
Line 1 of first stanza

This is a poem which was forwarded to me by a friend and I fell in love with it. Here is an excerpt. You can find the whole poem at http://www.users.muohio.edu/finchar/criticism/waldman.html

Baby's Pantoum
by Anne Waldman for Reed Bye

I lie in my crib midday this is
unusual I don't sleep really
Mamma's sweeping or else boiling water for tea
Other sounds are creak of chair & floor, water
dripping on heater from laundry, cat licking itself
Unusual I don't sleep really
unless it's dark night everyone in bed
Other sounds are creak of chair & floor, water
dripping on heater from laundry, cat licking itself
& occasional peck on typewriter, peck on my cheek
Unless it's dark night everyone in bed
I'm wide awake hungry wet lonely thinking
occasional peck on typewriter, peck on my cheek
My brain cells grow, I get bigger
I'm wide awake wet lonely hungry thinking
Then Mamma pulls out breast, says "Milky?"
My brain cells grow, I get bigger
This is my first Christmas in the world
Mamma pulls out breast, says "Milky?"

I highly recommend it as being a long Pantoum it will give you an ample idea of understanding the form.

History of the Form 

The 'pantun' is a Malaysian poetic form that was introduced to the West by French novelist, essayist, and poet, Victor Hugo (1802-1885), hence the French spelling, 'pantoum.' Westerners have taken creative liberties with the Malaysian form, which tends to follow a standard rhyme form of ABAB, where multiple, rather than single subjects, are introduced. The Pantoum originated in France, based on a form from Malaya. The Pantoum's name and form derive from the Malayan pantun. Historically, the Pantoum became popular in Europe and later North America in the nineteenth and especially the twentieth century.

The Pantoum tradition as a poem first appeared in France, in the work of Ernest Fouinet in the nineteenth century. Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire made the form fashionable. the pantoum was originally a 15th century Malayan form, brought to the West by Victor Hugo in 1829, taken up in England in the late 19th century. It caught on in America (mostly among the New York poets) in 1956, and on from there.

The pantoum's musical, hypnotic weaving is applicable to light, romantic themes; to lyrics about nature; or it can be used to make a strong theme more subtle and appealing.

Writing a Pantoum 

If you want to try your hand at a pantoum start simple. Just look around the room or out your window and try creating a pantoum about what you see Remember the rules of the form. I would suggest you start with a blank form.

Line 1
Line 2
Line 3
Line 4
Line 5(refrain of Line 2)
Line 6
Line 7(refrain of line 4)
Line 8

Fill in the relevant refrains as soon as you write the original line. That way you don't mess up the refrains structure. Moreover adding the lines later on sometimes makes them look choppy and forced on. I always write my lines around a refrain when I first learn a poetic form. Later on it becomes second nature and I don't need to worry. A Pantoum is a form which banks on its refrains to form a musical pattern. It can make an awesome song either fun and hilarious or haunting, melodious and touching. It is up to you. The only suggestion I make is start small. Three verses should be perfect to begin with.

It is a really fun form to work with and I love writing Pantoum. I recently read that Pantoum is a spiral form and when I thought about it , it is. It is just perfect for some themes, but a word of warning, if you feel your Pantoum isn't coming out right don't force it, may be the theme isn't right.

Smitha Chakravarthula

12-Sep-2004

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