Friday, August 15, 2008

The pantoum - a Poetry Friday post

Today, I want to talk about a particular form of poetry called the pantoum. The pantoum is an evocative form that originates in Malaysia. It involves a lot of repetition, since each line will repeat once in the poem. A pantoum can have as many stanzas as one likes. Each stanza holds four lines. Lines two and four of stanza one become lines one and three of stanza two, lines two and four of stanza two become lines one and three of stanza three, and so on, until the final stanza, in which line three of the first stanza of the poem is line two of that final stanza, and line one of the poem is the fourth line, and therefore the final line of the poem.

It can sound a bit complicated, but it's exceedingly simple when seen in practice. And today, I'm bringing you a marvelous pantoum by a poet named Peter Oresick (pronounced o-RES-ick), who kindly granted me permission to share his poem with you. The poem comes from a collection by Oresick published earlier this month by Carnegie Mellon University Press called Warhol-o-rama.

Andy Warhol for Familiar Quotations

by Peter Oresick

Andy Warhol said, Always leave them wanting less.
Being born, Warhol said, is like being kidnapped.
Everyone will be famous, Andy said, for 15 minutes.
I thought everyone was just kidding,
said Andy.

Being born, Andy Warhol said, is like being kidnapped.
Think rich,
said Warhol, look poor.
I thought everyone was just kidding,
said Andy.
Dying, Andy said, is the most embarrassing thing.

Think rich,
said Andy Warhol, look poor.
I am a deeply superficial man,
said Warhol.
Dying, Andy said, is the most embarrassing thing.
Andy said, I'd like my tombstone to be blank.

I am a deeply superficial man,
said Andy Warhol.
Fashions fade, Warhol said, but style is eternal.
Andy said, I'd like my tombstone to be blank.
Isn't life,
said Andy, a series of images that repeat?

Fashions fade,
Andy Warhol said, but style is eternal.
Everyone will be famous,
Warhol said, for 15 minutes.
Isn't life,
said Andy, a series of images that repeat?
Andy said, Always leave them wanting less.

Isn't life,
said Andy, a series of images that repeat?
Isn't life,
said Andy, a series of images that repeat?


Now, those last two lines don't actually fall within the pantoum, but are there for closure and effect. But if you look at all the four-line stanzas, you'll see how the form works, and, I think be amused and prompted to think along the way. Oresick did a brilliant job of assembling some of Warhol's quotes in a way that not only showcases them, but also forms a sort of narrative. I was impressed when I read this one in the August 6th "issue" of The Writer's Almanac, and the more I read it, the more I love it.

I myself have written a killer pantoum (in that it is both good and involves vampires), but I'm afraid I'm not ready to share it with you still. Hope springs eternal that I will eventually find a market and sell it. In the meantime, you'll have to take my word for it.

Those of you looking for a new form to try might want to give the pantoum a go. It works well for meditative sorts of poems and, like the villanelle, it also works well for obsessive topics.

The Round Up is over at Kelly H's place, Big A little a.

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