"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all."
-Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Today was writers' group day, and since our usual planner couldn't make it to the evening group I volunteered to bring an exercise to share. What I decided was to have everyone try writing a pantoum.

A pantoum is based on a form of folk poem from Malay. It doesn't have a metre or a rhyme scheme, but rather uses repetition to give itself form. It is made up of quatrains, and the even numbered lines from each quatrain (the 2nd and 4th) are repeated as the odd numbered lines in the next quatrain. So the structure of line repetition (each number representing a new line) looks like this: 1-2-3-4, 2-5-4-6, 5-7-6-8, 7-9-8-10, 9-11-10-12, 11-3-12-1. As you can see, in the final stanza the even numbered lines repeat from the first stanza, making the final line of the poem the same as the first line of the poem.

They're actually much easier to write (and to read) than they are to explain. The ideal result is that each line should take on a new meaning when it's repeated, because of context, though the words remain identical. And the first & last line should be the most transformed, because of the shift in perspective over the course of the poem.

The folks at the group were unsure, to say the least, when I introduced the idea tonight. However, by the end, everyone had produced three poems they were at least interested in, and seemed to enjoy the potential of the verse form. I enjoy them because they allow you to play with the meaning and context of phrases, and the structure of the poem kind of inherently creates a feeling of importance and depth to the words - a cyclical, nearly mythical tone.

I've posted the three I wrote here: http://skadhisgydhja.livejournal.com/35640.html.

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