Sunday, October 16, 2005

To Pantoum or Not To Pantoum

I've been working on a poem that I couldn't get to come together in any interesting way, then I happened to be reading BAP again, finally getting to the end, and came to Cecilia Woloch's "Bareback Pantoum" which I liked very much and there it was, what the poem needed was to be a pantoum.

The puzzle of it, making the lines work, is what's appealing about writing a pantoum. I know, you can easily go astray with the puzzle of a poem (I'm really susceptible to that, love word puzzles). Now I 'm thinking about whether to bring my pantoum to group today—I don't think my group likes pantoums much. The last one I brought, they disliked the repetition. Maybe it just wasn't very good. Though North American Review took it.

So I'm thinking the problem with pantoums is that they're fun to write, not as much fun to read. Repetition DOES get numbing. I vary the lines quite a bit to try to offset that, keep some element of surprise in the poem, but still... I did like Woloch's. I don't like to read sestinas much, though there are exceptions. Even villanelles, in spite of a few great ones like Bishop's "One Art" and Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle" and one by Roethke that I'm forgetting the title of. The challenge of keeping the form alive, not feeling predictable, having great lines, etc.—the usual poetry challenges ramped up in a determined direction. It's the love-hate relationship (like to write, don't like to read) I have with all formal poetry, sonnets included. Though again, big exceptions. Maybe just the attempts of us more ordinary, plebian poets.


C. Dale said...

Beverly! A post from you.

I understand what you mean, except I don't like writing them on top of that. I think I have one pantoum, one villanelle, and one sestina to my name. A few sonnets. That's it. I just have no impulse to try them again anytime soon. The good poems in these forms are amazing. Most of what I see around in these forms though is not so amazing. I guess it is like a lot of things.

That said, if you think you have found a pantoum, chances are that you have!

Diane K. Martin said...

As for me, I don't like writing them either--in form, that is--I never even attempted a pantoum and wouldn't know if my poem needed to be a pantoum if it came up and bit me.

My God, maybe that's it. Maybe my Gertrude Stein poem needed to be a pantoum. Okay, just kidding.

Since you brought the other poem you wrote to workshop and not the pantoum, I can't comment on your pantoum, but I liked the poem you brought very much.

It was a good workshop, though I'm still embarassed about my stupid reading of Melissa's poem. How literal can a person get?

Robert said...

I think you've put your finger on a key question of how much repetition a poem can stand. Modern taste seems to prefer variation to repetition, and I probably do too, but a poem with NO repetition seems awfully puritannical. Children love repetition (read me that story again), animals love repetition (toss that stick AGAIN, and toss it just like you did the last time), and lovers love repetition (ooh, do THAT again ...) It seems to make perfect sense that Cecilia Woloch found a pantoum the right form for a teenager's first experience of romance, sex, and horses.

Diane K. Martin said...

Yeah, and I was only kidding, but on second thought, maybe it's not such a bad idea, to get a flavor of Ms. Stein without plagiarizing her. After all, repetition was a hallmark of her style.

And, btw, I also like Cecilia Woloch's poem.

Beverly said...

Hi, C. Dale. I've been wondering how you are. Nice to hear from you.

And Diane, I don't know now if you're joking or not, but I can't see the Gertrude Stein as a pantoum, which has a more lyrical form of repetition. Lyrical is not a word I'd associate with Gert. Anyway I like the way you handle the repetition in the poem as it is.