Poet-a-Day: Meet Chip Livingston
I’m not sure who first brought my attention to “Punta del Este Pantoum,” but I’m so glad they did. As one of the main pantoum examples in How to Write a Form Poem, the poem mirrors the movement of ocean tides and its creatures, washing over my toes afresh every time I read the words. It’s been a pleasure getting to know Livingston through our correspondence about his pantoum.
Here are the first couple stanzas of the poem. You’ll want to read the rest, of course, which you can do in both How to Write a Form Poem and the poem’s original publication source, Sing: Poetry From the Indigenous Americas.
Punta del Este Pantoum (excerpt)
Accept my need and let me call you brother,
Slate blue oyster, wet sand crustacean,
In your hurrying to burrow, wait. Hover.
Parse opening’s disaster to creation’s
Slate, to another blue-eyed monstrous sand crustacean,
Water-bearer. Hear the ocean behind me,
Pursued, asking to be opened, asking Creation
To heed the tides that uncover you nightly…
Here’s what Livingston has to say about his pantoum:
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin story of “Punta del Este Pantoum”:
Chip Livingston (CL): This poem was one of several I wrote upon moving to Uruguay and exploring my new country. I don’t think of the pantoum as being specifically about Punta del Este, the city, but about that general area on the Atlantic coast in Uruguay, where I’d sit on the sand or rocks and watch the tide approach and retreat, extending my own gratitude for having found such a beautiful and welcoming home.
TR: Why did you decide to write the poem as a pantoum? Or did the form “cause” the poem?
CL: I think the rhythms of the breaking water on the Uruguayan beaches had a lot to do with my coming to the pantoum form for the poem, the repetitive lines lapping over each other like the echo of the coastal waves from which I drew its inspiration.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
CL: I hope poets will be inspired to explore and create new poems in forms. I love formal poems for both their constraints and presses on language, and I think the idea that they’re old fashioned is old fashioned itself.
About Chip Livingston
Chip Livingston is the author of the poetry collections Crow-Blue, Crow-Black and Museum of False Starts, as well as the novel Owls Don’t Have to Mean Death and story/essay collection Naming Ceremony.
He teaches in the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, and lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Hear Chip Read “Punta del Este Pantoum”
go to 45:38 to hear Chip read
Photo by Leo Alvarez, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.