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Samuel Peralta here!

A couple of Open Link Nights ago, I linked to a poem of mine called “The Treachery of Dreams”, a poem published in the online literary journal Metazen. It’s a fairly long poem, at nine stanzas, and half of it is in French, so many readers might have ignored it. The first two stanzas go like this:

Ceci n’est pas une – This is not a poem.
Still green, the apple contemplates the man.
Le fils de l’homme, il contemple la pomme.
Les hommes en chapeaux fall like summer rain.

Still green, the apple contemplates the man.
The artist paints a portrait of an egg.
Les hommes en chapeaux fall like summer rain.
Across a grove of leaves, a rider’s fled.

The first line is a riff on Rene Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” – “This is not a pipe”. And as you progress through my poem, you fill find that each and every line is a description of yet another of Magritte’s surrealistic works of art, with a line-repetition scheme – you can see it in the excerpt above – that emphasized the surrealistic nature of the images, as in a dream.

Magritte Museum, Belgium

In the comments of that OLN event, I noted that my offering would be “Treachery of Dreams”, and I added “Hint, hint”. Why? Because it hinted that my next Form For All article – this one – would be all about the poetic form I used, the pantoum.

The pantoum is a fifteenth-century Malaysian form, which started out as a folk poem, made up of rhyming couplets. This changed as the pantoum spread in popularity, especially with French and British writers of the nineteenth-century, including Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire. The twentieth century has also seen a resurgence, with John Ashbery, Donald Justice and Wendy Cope producing notable examples.

As the pantoum spread, its folk poem format changed. Modern pantoums are of any length, composed of four-line stanzas where the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza, until the final verse.

In other words, the pantoum is a type of structured verse made up of cycling refrains, a line that is repeated. Each verse is a quatrain, either unrhymed or rhymed ABAB.

Elan Village Road Sign

Let’s go through this step by step. The first verse sets up the initial pattern of four lines.

The second verse uses the second and fourth lines from the first verse as its first and third lines. The second and fourth lines of the second verse are new lines.

The third verse uses the second and fourth lines from the second verse as its first and third lines. The second and fourth lines of the third verse are new lines.

And so on, for as many verses as the poet can handle, until you reach the final verse.

This final verse uses the second and fourth lines of the preceding verse as its first and third lines, as per the usual pattern, but for its second and fourth lines it uses the first and third lines of the first verse, reversed.

Thus, the first line of the entire poem becomes its last line, a circular denouement.

The beauty is that, if done well, the pantoum results in a poem where the structure beautifully emphasizes the themes and images by repetition.

It’s easier when you see examples.

The first pantoum I’d ever written was published in the book “Goodbye, Billie Jean: The Meaning of Michael Jackson”, edited by Lorette Luzajic, a collection of essays, short stories, and poems in memoriam. Here it is:

In Memoriam Michael Jackson

Moonwalk

A story about Neverland
He’s quiet as his mother reads
His sisters cry, his brothers stand
From in the dark, his father pleads

He’s quiet as his mother reads
The words begin to form a song
From in the dark, his father pleads
He asks if he could dance along

The words begin to form a song
The melody begins to burn
He asks if he could dance along
He rises, makes a single turn

The melody begins to burn
He’s walking backwards, not a glance
He rises, makes a single turn
He’s crucified the lord of dance

He’s walking backwards, not a glance
Afraid to stop, afraid of joy
He’s crucified the lord of dance
In the mirror he sees the boy

Afraid to stop, afraid of joy
His world is broken, out of place
In the mirror he sees the boy
Up close he finds he has his face

His world is broken, out of place
From in the dark, his father pleads
Up close he finds he has his face
He’s quiet as his mother reads

From in the dark, his father pleads
His sisters cry, his brothers stand
He’s quiet as his mother reads
A story about Neverland

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The challenge gets more difficult (or more fun) the more stanzas you write. In my opinion, the minimum, to get the right effect, is three stanzas.

So… Can you do a 3-verse pantoum, or better? I’m eager to see!

As usual, share your poem via the link button below, and please, visit your fellow writers to see what they’ve come up with. I know I’m looking forward to it!

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Samuel Peralta – on Twitter as @Semaphore – is the author of Sonata Vampirica; Sonnets from the Labrador; How More Beautiful You Are; and Tango Desolado, all of which hit #1 on the Amazon Kindle List of Hot New Releases in Poetry on their debut.

Copyright (c) Samuel Peralta. All rights reserved.
Images public domain / via WikiMedia Commons.

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