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Pantoum


The Pantoum was originally a Malaysian form of poetry. It was adopted and adapted by the French and became very popular with them. Fouinet, Hugo and Baudelaire, are amongst the foremost users of this form.
It became very popular with the French who liked it probably because of the way the quatrains were linked to each other.

The Pantoum has a rhyme scheme of, a. b. a. b... b. c. b. c....etc and as can be seen, the second and fourth line of the first Stanza, become the first and third lines of the following stanza and so on.
Unlike most of these strict repeating forms there is no set stanza count. The original Malay form does not need the last stanza to repeat back to the first. This makes the Pantoum ideal for narratives that demand repetition.
The French form however, does require you to circle back and the last line is the same as the first line. The accepted method seems to be to reverse lines one and three, so line line three of the first stanza becomes line two of the last and line one of the first stanza, becomes the final line of the poem.
Here is a rather controversial example that was posted to me:

Pantoum for a Chinese Mother

A child with two mouths is no good.
In the slippery wet, a hollow space,
Smooth, gumming, echoing wide for food.
No wonder my man is not here at his place.

In the slippery wet, a hollow space,
A slit narrowly sheathed within its hood.
No wonder my man is not here at his place:
He is digging for the dragon jar of soot.

That slit narrowly sheathed within its hood!
His mother, squatting, coughs by the fire's blaze
While he digs for the dragon jar of soot.
We had saved ashes for a hundred days.

His mother, squatting, coughs by the fire's blaze.
The child kicks against me mewing like a flute.
We had saved ashes for a hundred days.
Knowing, if the time came, that we would.

The child kicks against me crying like a flute
Through its two weak mouths. His mother prays
Knowing when the time comes that we would,
For broken clay is never set in glaze.

Through her two weak mouths his mother prays.
She will not pluck the rooster nor serve its blood,
For broken clay is never set in glaze:
Women are made of river sand and wood.

She will not pluck the rooster nor serve its blood.
My husband frowns, pretending in his haste
Women are made of river sand and wood.
Milk soaks the bedding. I cannot bear the waste.

My husband frowns, pretending in his haste.
Oh clean the girl, dress her in ashy soot!
Milks soaks our bedding, I cannot bear the waste.
They say a child with two mouths is no good.



Shirley Geok-lin Lim

Variations to the Pantoum form

Free Pantoum
One very possible variation to this structure would be the Free Pantoum, a variation which follows the repetition of the Pantoum, but allows the freedom away from verse. This variation recognises the requirements to follow the similarities of form sans the verse requirements, so the form would be a, b, c, d,....b, e, d, f, and so on.
If the circle back is required, the final stanza becomes *, c, *, a. I firmly believe this will create some powerful poetry.

The Pantoum Sonnet
The Pantoum lends itself very easily to the sonnet form. It is only necessary to present three stanzas and the mandatory two lines from the third stanza will form the final couplet. I would suggest the repetition would make it a very powerful sonnet form.


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