Poet-a-Day: Meet Majorie Maddox
Marjorie Maddox, whom I met at a discussion circle I led at the Calvin Festival many years ago, is one of the most prolific and engaging poets I know. I’m fairly certain she’s written in every form invented since the beginning of poetic time. When she heard about How to Write a Form Poem, she submitted many lovely examples, but the pantoum below happens to be my favorite.
Here are the first few stanzas from “Bouncing Between Beds with Song.” You can find the whole poem in How to Write a Form Poem.
Bouncing Between Beds with Song (excerpt)
See the magnolia bursting
with what could be and the blue-grey
two-story shy beside it? There,
go in now, up the stairs and back too many years
into what could be, into the blue-grey
and stair-stepping into the long hallway of age,
go in now, staring full-face all the many years
that separate adult’s bed from child’s dream.
Two-stepping down the long hallway of age,
here where you cannot stand still—
between adult’s bed and child’s dream—
this is where you learned to fly…
Here’s what the poet has to say about her pantoum:
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin story of “Bouncing Between Beds with Song”:
Marjorie Maddox (MM): Like many of my poems, “Bouncing Between Beds with Song” began with a memory of sound, movement, and image. I am the middle child of three children, and up until I entered the first grade, we lived in a blue-grey house with a beautiful magnolia tree in the front yard. The children’s rooms (I shared with my sister) were on the second floor at one end of a long hallway, my parent’s bedroom at the other.
At the time, Mary Poppins was a favorite movie, and I knew every song by heart. My two most vivid memories of that house are the blooming magnolia tree and running from one bedroom to another, bouncing on every bed, and singing at the top of my lungs “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” These are memories I still associate with beauty, joy, and a sense of carefree abandonment.
TR: Why did you choose to write the poem as a pantoum? Or did the form “cause” the poem?
MM: The music, the motion, and the images of that one childhood experience rushed back—the way many recollections do—quickly and vividly, the poem transitioning naturally to a meditation on memory, choice, aging, and writing.
Why, though, a pantoum? Two reasons:
1) In 2012, I was taking part in a small writing retreat housed at an old convent. Most of the attendees were published children’s authors there to “stretch and grow” as poets. I was primarily a poet, who also writes children’s books, attending to learn more about children’s literature. Each year, the group hosted an award-winning visiting poet to lead workshops. So, both childhood and poetry were on my mind. This poem came out of a discussion of and workshop on writing the pantoum, led by Lesléa Newman.
2) Because of its use of repetition, the pantoum seems to me one of several forms (alongside the villanelle and the triolet) particularly suited for a meditation on memory. The movement of a pantoum is, indeed, one of remembrance—repetition and variation—and the ways we are encouraged or haunted by such memories.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
MM: That the fence of poetic form quite often opens the gates into a vast landscape of imaginative freedom, terrain you may not have anticipated or even known existed. Allow yourself the joy of exploration.
About Marjorie Maddox
Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published eleven collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize and finalist for the Brittingham Poetry Prize); True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series, Illumination Book Award Medalist); and Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award). She is also the author of four children’s and YA books and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Her book Begin with a Question is due out from Paraclete Press in Spring 2021. The chair of the jury of judges for the 2020 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Book Award, she gives readings and workshops around the country.
Photo by Liz West, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
How to Write a Form Poem: A Guided Tour of 10 Fabulous Forms
With How to Write a Form Poem by your side, you’ll be instructed and inspired with 10 fabulous forms—sonnets, sestinas, haiku, villanelles, pantoums, ghazals, rondeaux, odes, acrostics (the real kind), found poems + surprising variations on classic forms (triolet, anyone?), to challenge you when you’re ready to go the extra mile.
You’ll also be entertained by Runyan’s own travel stories that she uses to explain and explore the various forms—the effect of which is to bring form poetry down to earth (and onto your own poetry writing map)!