How To Write A Pantoum

The Pantoum is a form that originated from Malaysia. I like to think of it as a sort of circle, because it begins and ends with the same line. Whatever the journey, you end up back where you started, so it is an interesting form to explore.

So what do you need to know about the Pantoum?

1)      Length: it does not adhere to a specific length. So even though it is a strict form, you can make it as long or short as you like! (Much like my Asby). However, the Pantoum is written in quatrains – four line stanzas.

2)      Rhyme: The rhyming of each stanza is abab

3)      Repetition: The second and fourth line of the first stanza become the first and third line of the second stanza and it continues in this manner. However, in the last stanza (whenever that may be), this pattern changes. The unrepeated first and third lines are used in reverse as second and fourth lines.

4)      Pattern: The poem should begin and end with the same line, if done correctly.

I have chosen Carolyn Kizer’s poem as an example because I fell in love with the poem, I find it both funny and moving. However she does not adhere strictly to the Pantoum’s form – her last line is a standalone line.

Parents’ Pantoum

By Carolyn Kizer

for Maxine Kumin

Where did these enormous children come from,

More ladylike than we have ever been?

Some of ours look older than we feel.

How did they appear in their long dresses

More ladylike than we have ever been?

But they moan about their aging more than we do,

In their fragile heels and long black dresses.

They say they admire our youthful spontaneity.

They moan about their aging more than we do,

A somber group–why don’t they brighten up?

Though they say they admire our youthful spontaneity

They beg us to be dignified like them

As they ignore our pleas to brighten up.

Someday perhaps we’ll capture their attention

Then we won’t try to be dignified like them

Nor they to be so gently patronizing.

Someday perhaps we’ll capture their attention.

Don’t they know that we’re supposed to be the stars?

Instead they are so gently patronizing.

It makes us feel like children–second-childish?

Perhaps we’re too accustomed to be stars.

The famous flowers glowing in the garden,

So now we pout like children. Second-childish?

Quaint fragments of forgotten history?

Our daughters stroll together in the garden,

Chatting of news we’ve chosen to ignore,

Pausing to toss us morsels of their history,

Not questions to which only we know answers.

Eyes closed to news we’ve chosen to ignore,

We’d rather excavate old memories,

Disdaining age, ignoring pain, avoiding mirrors.

Why do they never listen to our stories?

Because they hate to excavate old memories

They don’t believe our stories have an end.

They don’t ask questions because they dread the answers.

They don’t see that we’ve become their mirrors,

We offspring of our enormous children.

 

If you decide you want to attempt the Pantoum (and I would encourage you to), here are a couple tips:

1)      As usual, choose a topic or theme that you are comfortable with

2)      Select your first line carefully. Choose something powerful, subtle or unique because it will also be your last line.

3)      The rhyme scheme is fairly straightforward, but just to be safe, choose words that will allow you to pair easily.

4)      Don’t try to be ‘poetic’, the form will do the work for you; just focus on saying what you want to say.

5)      Remember that you are closing the way you started, so explore your theme as best as you can and then stop when you feel you have said all you need to say.

 

He Mumbles A Stranger’s Name At Night

By Oyinkan Braithwaite

He mumbles a stranger’s name at night.

With lips puckered and dripping with saliva,

as though she were candy, he nibbles and bites;

he smacks and licks his lips, dreaming of her.

With lips puckered and dripping with saliva,

he looms in and goes for the kiss.

He smacks and licks his lips, dreaming of her,

and I pretend that there is nothing amiss.

He looms in and goes for the kiss,

but I am the recipient of his fantasy;

and I pretend that there is nothing amiss,

I take his passion and pretend it’s for me.

I am the recipient of his fantasy,

the woman in his arms and in his bed.

I take his passion, pretend that it’s for me,

forget she’s got his heart, she’s got his head.

The woman in his arms and in his bed,

the woman called his wife;

forget she’s got his heart, she’s got his head,

remember that this man is yours for life.

The woman called his wife,

(as though she were candy, he nibbles and bites)

remember that this man is yours for life;

though he mumbles a stranger’s name at night.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “How To Write A Pantoum

  1. Very interesting. I like how the repeated lines lend an obsessive quality as the poem progresses. For me, though, struggling with rhyme schemes always ends up giving me a headache, which is why I became focused on prose 😉

  2. Pingback: Daily Journey Journal #35: something new…pantoum | Snap Thoughts

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