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Working on a pantoum: a how-to post

Ah, the pantoum! What can one say about the pantoum, that lovely Malaysian form of poetry?

Well, for one thing, it makes me think of sandwiches. Club sandwiches, in particular.

Pantoums are sly. They do not require you to use rhyme, though you can. They do not have a maximum number of lines, but there's a minimum of eight, and even then, people might not "get" that you wrote one.

Pantoums work well for obsessive thoughts, or list-like things. An in-depth examination of a particular notion is usually best. Why is that? you ask. (Or I will pretend you did, anyhow.)

Because each line in the poem gets used twice. And the poem is like a split-level house that keeps adding pairs of floors. Or, if you prefer, a bit like a club sandwich.

The pantoum is written using four-line stanzas, or quatrains, but parts get reused.

Specifically, the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next. And the first and third lines of the FIRST stanza flip around and become the second and fourth lines of the LAST. Which means that the poem ends with its starting line.

I'm thinking of pantoums today, because I'm working on one to share with my poetry sisters. (Perhaps you read our recent raccontinos? Here's one I wrote for the Poetry Princesses last time (and the one I'm working on now is to be posted at the start of May):

On My List
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

I've got better things to do
than survive; I get along
as best as I can --
so many things are on my list.

I survive, getting along
day after day.
Too many things on my to-do list
to ever catch up with, complete.

Day after day,
I start to question why
I try to catch up or complete
so many pointless tasks.

I stop my questioning
as best I can.
So many pointless tasks--
I've got better things to do.

And here is a link to a prior post containing a spectacularly good pantoum by Peter Oresick, which is composed of quotes by Andy Warhol, from his collection, Warhol-O-Rama.

Now to settle in and write a poem . . .




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