Monday, March 9, 2009

Poetry: The Pantoum

I belong to an online writing forum where we must post one story and one poem each month. Then each author reads and offers suggestions to the others. The poem that caught my eye this month was written from the prompt "an old photograph", but the form was different from any I'd seen before. Coincidentally, a few minutes after reading the poem, I picked up the latest issue of The Writer Magazine where I found a rather lengthy article on that very form!

It's called the "pantoum" and originated in 15th century Malaysia. The pattern is this:

  • Lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza become lines 1 and 3 of the second.
  • Lines 1 and 3 of the second stanza then become lines 2 and 4 of the second.
And so it goes. The last line of the poem must repeat the opening line, but it will be changed in a way that is slightly different. Use of what the author, Marilyn Taylor, calls "movable punctuation" and the use of homophones keep the poem from becoming repetitive.

Not wanting to infringe copyright, I won't use any of her examples, but I did get permission from forum member Bob Ruerhdanz to illustrate with his poem.

An old photograph
Circa eighteen sixties
It gazes across the room
Of a man in slight profile


Circa eighteen sixties
A formal portrait of
Of a man in slight profile
The picture is in gray


A formal portrait of
The general in his finest
The picture is in gray
It matches his uniform


The general in his finest
Gentle face and Silver hair
It matches his uniform
A proud man in his prime


Gentle face and Silver hair

Well principled and honest
A proud man in his prime
General Robert E. Lee

It's almost like a puzzle and certainly as fascinating!

1 comment:

nlindabrit said...

Oh, yes, what a fascinating form! I have never encountered it before, but found it very effective in this poem you have quoted. The repeated words seem to draw it all together and I remember the portrait he speaks of. That photo of General Lee is one of the wonderful photos in Alistair Cooke's book about America. It is one of the most compelling pictures I have ever seen.