Blog, Pantoum, Themed Writing Projects, writing prompts

Freedom In Structure: The Pantoum (A Writing Prompt)

23 Comments

There is freedom in structure.

It seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Rules—whether those rules be legal or poetic—were made to restrict or limit freedom. Right?

Consider, though, your morning routine. You wake from the same bed, put the same coffee pot on to brew, sit in the same chair, in the same living room, while the same sun rises day after day. These are the forms or structures of the morning, and you follow them without consideration. It is here that some of your most creative ideas spring to life.

Consider the law. There are rules and regulations to follow, and if you’d like to make your 12:30 lunch appointment, you’d best not exceed the speed limit, bust a U-ey at the traffic signal in the center of town, or rear-end the driver who seems to keep one foot on the gas and one on the brake. Follow the rules of the road and you are free to come and go as you please.

Certainly, these are imperfect analogies, but poetic forms and rules can likewise bring a kind of freedom. This month at Tweetspeak, we’re exploring the pantoum. The poetic structure is composed of multiple stanzas, with each successive stanza containing lines from the previous. Last week, I played with the form for the first time, bending an African story into the shape of a pantoum. I wrote, in part:

A goat lies with smoking eyes,
shaking, trembling to thunder thud.
Running through a rain-stream live-wire,
rivers run red through spent sclera.

Shaking, trembling to thunder thud,
Plateau people mourn like Baobab bent.
Rivers run red through spent sclera.
Shrieks rise under medicine man spells.

In the process, sticking with the form as best as the rebel-writer in me allowed, I found myself exploring emotions in repeating lines. Why did I choose the actions “shaking, trembling?” Why repeat the colors, the red of the river, the white of the sclera? As I asked these questions, I noticed the structure freed me to explore the way I feel about my friends in Northern Mozambique. Their lives, the lives of the plateau people, are often uneasy, visceral. The form itself had given me the freedom to explore the emotional realities of the story, realities which I had yet to consider.

Poetic forms can bring an explorative freedom to the poet. But if we view them as burdens or cumbersome forms, we may avoid them and miss an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves or the stories around us.

Writing Prompt: This brings us to our poetic prompt of the day. Are you willing to bend story into a pantoum? Are you willing to learn something about yourself? Pick a story, any story you know. Tell it in pantoum form, asking which lines to repeat and why. Ask what the lines mean to you. What emotions do they evoke? Then, share your work with us in the comments and we’ll tweet it to the world.

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Tweetspeak’s March Pantoum Prompt:

This month’s poetry theme at Tweetspeak is Pantoum, and we’ll be composing poems that fit the genre. This is an open month as far as thematic content goes, so be creative. How do you participate?

1. Study up on the Pantoum style, the form and theory.

2. Compose your own pantoum.

3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #TSPantoum hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.

4. If you aren’t a twitter user, leave your poem here in the comment box.

5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and feature it in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.

This week, Megan Willome took a shot at writing a pantoum. In her poem, “Try,” Megan writes:

We’re supposed to try
That’s what dads do
Try and try and try
Move over more money

That’s what dads do
Fix the car
Move over more money
Moms, too

Fix the car
Find the right shoes
Moms, too
Pray you do okay

Find the right shoes
Try and try and try
Pray you do okay
We’re supposed to try

Now, let’s get to down to working out our pantoums. Who’s first?

Photo by creative1the, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Seth Haines

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Your Comments

23 Comments so far

  1. L. L. Barkat says:

    It’s interesting. I am not sure whether there is freedom in structure or whether structure imposes something we perhaps hadn’t thought to try.

    And in the trying is discovering.

    And in the discovery, we learn we have options.

    And in the options, we now, perhaps, have a kind of freedom… because we can choose.

    Oh, don’t mind me. Just thinking out loud :)

  2. L. L. Barkat says:

    oh, and I like Megan’s pantoum. The repetitive nature of the form captures the repetitive (and sometimes painful) nature of parenting.

  3. Ok the first pantoum… I, well tried to write, it was so hauntingly repetitive I thought I was losing my mind, as I tried to write it. My first pantoum still haunts me. I worked so hard at staying within the bounds of the format when I wrote it, I thought I was losing my mind. Let me repeat. Try proofing your own pantoum against the required format, eyes blurred over, oh you get the point. Off to try again. If I don’t come back, please come looking for me. I may be lost in the maze that is the pantoum. And yes, I know first I must go research the “inventor” of the first pantoum and blame them for all the craziness.

    • Seth Haines says:

      You know, your comment almost takes the form of a pantoum!

      I agree with you re the form. It can be a bit maddening at times. But it’s so dang fun!

      • :) so glad you see my comment as a loose pantoum, since that’s what I was going for. They get dang funner and funner the more you work with the form. I am going to try to wrestle another to the mat before this rodeo is over.

  4. B. A. Sheldon says:

    Make a way to say
    Something fresh, unspoken
    Out of the fray
    The familiar broken

    Something novel, not heard
    Before never known
    The familiar blurred
    Original-grown

    Before untrodden
    Unprecedented plot
    Original garden
    Nascent thought

    Virgin story
    Spawned within
    Birthing glory
    Beginnings again

    Conception’s tale
    Out of the fray
    Natal travail
    Make a way to say

  5. Perhaps

    Perhaps your dream drifted
    through unbreathed air. My own,
    perhaps, has settled, there.
    Cherry blossoms still and fall.

    Through unbreathed air my own
    love threads a mask too dark to bare.
    Cherry blossoms still and fall.
    Night showers us in too-pink shawls.

    Love threads a mask too dark. To bear
    your dream I leave my own in time.
    Night showers us in too-pink shawls—
    a wrist is pricked, chain’s links cut, fall.

    Your dream I leave. My own in time
    I cleave, as moon the sun or night the day.
    Your wrist is pricked, chain’s links cut, fall.
    Remind me, love, who comes, who stays.

    I cleave, as moon the sun or night the day.
    I hold remorse, itself hearts sway.
    Remind me, love, who comes, who stays.
    Perhaps your dream drifted.

  6. Winter – A Pantoum

    When winter drools her last stale drop of dreaded
    cold
    The earth forgets what hope she had in spring
    Forget the greens, they’re buried under earth’s dead
    covering of leaves with hope
    Nothing new, mercury’s stuck too, in numbers that
    Read winter is still here

    Forget the greens, they’re buried under earth’s dead
    covering of leaves with hope
    Hidden from the spinning world, stuck in the shadows
    tombstone gray
    Nothing new, mercury’s stuck too, in numbers that
    read winter is still here
    The earth, She spins as needle stuck in vinyl groove,
    wash rinse, repeat, round She spins, no change

    Hidden from the spinning world, stuck in the shadows
    tombstone gray
    Hides spring, She longs to break out of season’s
    pattern, old and cold
    The earth, She spins as needle stuck in vinyl groove,
    wash, rinse, repeat, round She spins, no change
    Monotony becomes Earth’s middle name

    When winter drools her last stale drop of dreaded cold
    Monotony becomes Earth’s middle name

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    And oh the line break challenge of the comment block – varied from the original due to form constraints of blue box bully. ;0 but at least you don’t have to send the St. Bernard and a stretcher out after me :0

  7. Breath-Sound While Meditating (Pantoum)

    The sea retracts its breath-sound,
    gathering into itself the voice resisting.
    Inhalation’s held within each Om.
    Mist piles up as clouds. Zeus wheezes.

    Gathering into itself, the voice, resisting
    sea’s mouth, swallows noise. Undulating Oms
    in the mist pile up in clouds. Zeus wheezes,
    his cry an alarm and joyous and thin.

    Sea’s mouth swallows noise. Undulating Oms,
    lungs sound their hunger for air. In exhalation
    his cry — an alarm and joyous and thin.
    The becoming full in the letting go. It rains.

    Lungs sound their hunger for air. In exhalation
    the emptying begins within, now without:
    the becoming, full in the letting go. It rains
    one-syllables. They rise to the surface, lullabies.

    The emptying begins within, now without
    the holding back. Om hums whole
    one-syllables. They rise to the surface — lullabies
    the sea retracts — its breath-sound.

  8. B. A. Sheldon says:

    Listen (a pantoum)

    A blabby, bobbing bird, she blurts!
    From branch she bellows at passing fellows-
    Chirping notes until she hurts.
    Full-breastedly, she never mellows.

    From branch, she bellows at passing fellows,
    Who ogle at their own devices.
    Full-breastedly, she never mellows,
    Launching notes on glowing vices.

    Who ogle at their own devices
    Mesmerized and disconnected
    Launching notes on glowing vices
    What is precious, undetected

    Mesmerized and disconnected
    Singing fades, flutters away
    What is precious, undetected
    Listening has lost today.

    Singing fades, flutters away
    Listening, lulled to sleep her skill.
    What is precious, undetected…
    Even though she’s singing still.

    Listening, lulled to sleep her skill,
    But not her hope of resurrection!
    Even though she’s singing still…
    Her song awaits a heart’s detection

    Alive! Her hope of resurrection,
    Chirping notes until she hurts-
    Her song awaits a heart’s detection…
    A blabby, bobbing bird, she blurts!

  9. My Sister my Bride

    My sister my Bride-come stand here beside me
    Come and be my Bride
    My sister my Bride – come walk along with me
    Stay with me by My side

    I love you – yes I love you
    I love you – My sister my Bride
    How I love you – yes I love you
    I love you My sister My Bride

    I’ll nurture your heart
    with My grace and loving
    My love keeps your heart warm
    When your heart’s in need
    I’m always there giving
    I will keep you from harm
    For I love you – yes I love you
    I love you My sister my Bride

    How I love you – yes I love you
    I want you here by my side
    You are My sister My Bride

    Solomon 4:9-12, Revelation 21:2

  10. Ginny says:

    The Early Morning Waits

    It was spring, 1875, and the crisp morning air hummed with promise.
    The soft wisps of fog seemed to seep through the windows.
    Judith hovered in the kitchen,
    her brow furrowed.

    The wisps of fog seemed to seep through the windows.
    Surely, William was waiting patiently outside.
    Judith’s brow furrowed as she thought, and decided.
    She quickly packed his breakfast, then her own.

    Stepping outside, she found Will waiting patiently.
    He smiled at her from where he sat, on his horse.
    She had quickly packed his breakfast, then her own.
    She reached up nervously to hand him his bundle.

    He smiled sweetly and Judith stood, immobile and shy.
    The quiet mare waited beside them,
    watching the bundle as it hesitantly found Will’s hand.
    Judith took a deep breath, and mounted the mare.

    The shy mare had waited beside them,
    now she flew over pastures and meadows and brooks.
    With another deep breath, the girl was one with her horse.
    Judith laughed as their swiftness brought back her ease.

    Now they flew over pastures and meadows and brooks,
    Will in their dust, grinning, nonetheless, at his secret new friend.
    She laughed, but the swiftness had taken her ease.
    Then Aurora’s radiance chased it all away, time held them, and both riders slowed.

    Will, catching up, glanced at his lively young friend.
    She gazed, awestruck, at ribbons of flaming violet, orange and rose.
    The dawn had chased their time away, yet both riders sat anchored.
    Judith’s face glowed with a serenity William had not seen before.

    She sat there so still, in awe and wonder,
    till sadly he said she’d be soon missed at home.
    Her face’s serenity vanished like a winter day.
    He regretted his pocket watch couldn’t hold time forever.

    With a sigh, he said they’d need her at home,
    so they rode there more slowly to savor the sunrise.
    He regretted his pocket watch couldn’t hold time forever.
    He longed for more time with his newfound friend.

    They rode home more slowly, then Judith smiled her shy goodbye in the light of the sunrise.
    She left to hover in the kitchen over tea kettle and potatoes,
    daydreaming of the time spent with her newfound friend.
    It was spring, 1875, and the soft morning air hummed with new promise.

  11. Just a Glimpse of You

    Just a glimpse of You and I’d be renewed

    What my heart would do at the sight of You

    Just a glimpse of You

    Just to see Your Face – in this Holy Place

    Just a glimpse of You

    What my heart would do at the sight of You

    Just a glimpse of You

    Job 23:9,10, Psalm 17:15,80:3


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