Pantoum: Long Distance Runners and Poetry




The pantoum is a poetic form originating in Malay where poets write quatrains (4-line stanzas) with an abab rhyme scheme and repeat lines 2 and 4 in the previous stanza as lines 1 and 3 in the next stanza.


Poets differ on how to treat the final quatrain: Some poets repeat lines 1 and 3 of the original quatrain as lines 2 and 4 in the final quatrain; other poets invert lines 1 and 3 so that the beginning line of the poem is also the final line of the poem (what I’ve done in the very basic example below).


“Long Distance Runners”


They don’t like running in the heat,
because only so many layers can come off
as their shoes bounce along the street
and the city’s exhaust makes them cough.


Because only so many layers can come off,
unlike the adding of shirts in winter,
and the city’s exhaust makes them cough
they sometimes wish they were sprinters.


Unlike the adding of shirts in winter,
they prefer long distances in fall.
They sometimes wish they were sprinters,
though their talent in speed is small.


They prefer long distances in fall,
though spring is also nice.
Though their talent in speed is small,
long distance runners pay the price.


Though spring is also nice
as their shoes bounce along the street,
long distance runners pay the price.
They don’t like running in the heat.


As you can see, it’s a very basic pattern for keeping the poem going. Of course, one trick is to always have an idea of how a line might be able to repeat in the next quatrain. Very fun brain teaser type of poem, for sure.


(Also, the pantoum can be as long or as short as you wish it to be, though mathematically it does require at least 4 lines.)


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Check out other Poetic Forms.


 

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