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Juggler, Magician, Fool - A Pantoum -- Peter Schaeffer

I happen to be a fan of ingenuity too...
(Poem #195) Juggler, Magician, Fool - A Pantoum
You mysterious jongleur, abstracted, absorbed, you slowly pace the street.
You stare, detached, through a curtain: silver balls in the air.

You slowly pace the street, tossing coins, cups, scarves,
silver balls in the air, making a skydance ---

tossing coins, cups, scarves, each in their separate paths,
making a skydance, chaotic, hypnotic;

each in their separate paths, dancing
(chaotic, hypnotic) the random paths of stars;

dancing through and around;
the random paths of stars, moons, comets, and the sudden flare-fade streak

through and around everything, the mystical hands tossing destinies;
moons, comets, and the sudden flare-fade streak of your hands ordering

everything. The mystical hands tossing destinies --- the feel
of your hands ordering the planets to dance.

The feel of chaos put in order. Tell
the planets to dance on your palm.

Of chaos put in order, tell the stars in their places in the lines
on your palm. Whirl

the stars in their places in the lines. You stare, detached, through a curtain.
Whirl, you mysterious jongleur, abstracted, absorbed.
-- Peter Schaeffer
Here's what the author himself has to say about his chosen poetic form:

"True, it's an unusual pantoum. Here's what Clement Wood says about the form in
his Rhyming Dictionary (Doubleday, 1936):

    "Ernest Fouinet introduced the Malayan pantoum into French versification,
and Victor Hugo popularized it in the Orientales. It is written in four-line
stanzas; and the second and fourth line of each stanza become the first and
third of the succeeding stanza. In the last stanza, the second and fourth lines
are the third and first of the first stanza; so that the opening and closing
lines of the pantoum are identical. The rhyme scheme would then be: 1, 2, 1,
2;   2, 3, 2, 3;   3, 4, 3, 4;   . . .   n, 1, n, 1. "

Notice that he says nothing about meter. Juggler, Magician, Fool began as a
strict pantoum in that the lines were correctly repeated according to the
dictates of the form; however, they varied in length. The author then discovered
that the poem read better with long lines than with short, so he eliminated
every second line break. This poem is the result. "

    -- Peter Schaeffer

Are we sufficiently impressed yet? Pantoums put villanelles in the shade -
they're far more complex, more constrained, and more convoluted. To write a poem
which is 'good' in absolute terms [1] while adhering to the straitjacket of this
particular form requires astonishing skill and ingenuity, and I for one confess
myself thoroughly impressed.

While on the topic of form (and I don't see how we can stray too far from it, in
today's context), notice how irregular the (implied) line breaks are - in
length, in content, in lexical position. It makes an interesting game, spotting
them and (even better) trying out various substitute lines/phrases.

Of course, I couldn't possibly mention form without bringing up her old
partner-in-crime, content [2]. The connection here is obvious: the repetitive,
almost hypnotic words mimic the juggler's whirling silver spheres as they trace
their convoluted paths; yet underlying them both there is a pattern, a cyclicity
- not, admittedly, an easy one to spot, but nevertheless one that's crucial to
the whole. And both words and objects contain (or seem to contain) stars,
galaxies, whole universes of meaning. The poet is both creator and created; his
identity merges with that of the juggler as he brings order to the chaos of the
written world. Wheels within wheels within wheels - intricate, and marvellous.


[1] and I do think today's poem is a good one by any standards.
[2] did I hear someone say "Oh no, there he goes again..."?

PS. form vs. content, self-reference, poems about poetry... boy, I really struck
gold with this poem :-)

PPS. an afterthought: rereading Martin's comments to yesterday's poem -
"[Self-reference] is a not-too-unusual device in poems whose main focus is their
form - inverting the scheme of things somewhat, the content highlights and
reinforces the form, explicitly pointing out its various features."  - note that
although form _is_ emphasized in today's poem, it is not the be-all and end-all;
its primary role remains the reinforcement of content. This is an important
distinction; it raises 'Juggler, Magican, Fool' above the level of a mere
intellectual curiosity and into the realms of 'true' poetry.

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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What a perfect poem it show us what a lot of people in the world like to do, I mean we can feel so free tossing coins, cups, scarves,
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