Monday, April 19, 2010


Hi Fonz,

Are you in the mood to talk about form? I just finished reading The Anthologist, having had it recommended to me by the flawless Amy Lawless, and it has moodened me to offer my own toot oriel, in verse, by example.

Let us begin just left of the beginning, with the Pantoum. What the? Did she say Pantoum? My frikken spellchecker never heard of it! It's underlining it in red as if to say, Give us a sonnet! Give us a villanelle! [Go look at the Pantoum on wikipedia. No Don't! Unless you want to kind of laugh. Read the first paragraph it is all hinky.]

I'll just explain the Pantoum:

Four-line stanzas with abab rhyme.

Every line in the poem is said twice.

Last line of the poem is the same as the first.

Sounds nice right? The pattern is wacky, though, it’s this:

After the first stanza, the first line of each stanza repeats the second line of the preceding stanza. And the third line of the stanza repeats the fourth line of the preceding stanza. Also, in the last stanza, the second line repeats the heretofore unrepeated third line in the first stanza, and its last line repeats the first line of the first stanza.

Fonz, the truth is, the spellchecker is right, it's not the greatest form. Some forms have their device just right, and the Pantoum, like the sestina in my green-house opinion on the subject, is a B class form. But that's what makes it such a challenge, especially here in the twilight of our ridiculous youth and the bright dawn of something grayer. I meant to say, especially here in the sticky-wicket of a new century. Can we pretend sticky wicket means dense Dantesque forest, out of which one wonders, am I ever to be delivered?

Here's what it is. Here's one from me to you. Where did you come from Fonz? It must be hard. So much pressure, so many expectations. Living with someone else's family. Banging on things to make them work. Urinals in your office. (Thanks for that insight Joelle.)

Right, well, back to the poem. It was first published in McSweeney's 31. Actually, I change my mind. I love the Pantoum. It floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.


My people were existential thugs.

At circus, monkeys in derbies rode us.

Muttering, Life, in a full-bodied shrug,

at circus we swept up the sawdust.

At circus, monkeys in derbies rode us,

while the great rode feathered horses.

At circus we swept up the sawdust,

the dove’s debris and patrons’ losses.

While the great rode feathered horses,

humming to Pegasus, Oh Peggy Sue,

we’d unglove, debrief, and pocket losses.

Tanneries are what my people knew.

Brushing Pegasus to strains of Peggy Sue,

catching acrobats. Shadow of a big top,

tailor’s tales of what the ball-gown knew.

Sequins and confetti on a rag mop.

Catch an acrobat’s shadow on the big top

muttering, Life, with a bruise. Shrugged

sequins; drooped confetti like a rag mop.

My people were existential thugs.


Next up... the Larch. The Larch.



1 comment:

EricBourland said...

I like this poem a lot.

Thanks for the rundown of the pantoum. I never get very much into them or sestinas. But I like this poem.

Sticky-wicket always cracks me up.