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Miss Charlotte Brown, Librarian, Goes Mad -- Felix Jung

Next on our list of named verse forms, the pantoum:
(Poem #907) Miss Charlotte Brown, Librarian, Goes Mad
 Today, I have decided
 to read every poem ever written
 in the short history of our civilization.
 I know it is a selfish thing

 to read. Every poem ever written
 has its good intentions. I know,
 I know, it is a selfish thing.
 I want to believe that. Poetry

 has its good intentions. I know
 reading poems can't help much.
 I want to believe that poetry
 books have the answer. I'll start

 reading. Poems can't help much
 in the short history of our civilization.
 Books have the answer. I'll start
 today. I have decided.
-- Felix Jung
[Note on form]

"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."
        -- Clement Wood, the Doubleday Rhyming Dictionary (1936)

[Commentary]

This is not a particularly brilliant poem (I find the title, especially,
rather facetious and even a bit cruel), but it is a good example of that
most fiendishly difficult of verse forms, the pantoum. Sestinas,
villanelles, triolets, rondeaux - they each have their peculiar contortions
and convolutions, but pantoums are the trickiest of the lot [1]. To write a
pantoum that parses naturally is no mean task; to write one that expresses a
logical sequence of ideas (no matter how hackneyed) without tying itself up
in lexical knots is very impressive indeed.

thomas.

[1] Isn't it interesting how repetitive verse forms tend to be imported into
English from other languages? Sestinas from the Italian, villanelles,
triolets and rondeaux from the French, pantoums from the Malay... is there
something about these languages which makes it easier to play around with
sentence patterns?

Contrariwise, poetry written in English tends to be rhymed much more often
than that in other languages. Is this due to the abundance of end-rhymes
available in English?

Douglas Hofstadter addresses these questions, and much much much more, in
his magnificent "Le Ton beau de Marot", a stunning investigation of
translation and the essence of language which I _strongly_ reccomend.

[Moreover]

The subject material of today's poem seems especially apt in light of a very
thought-provoking thread that's been running on [minstrelsd] of late [2],
about the importance of _context_ to poetry. Can/should one judge art from a
moral standpoint? Is there a difference between poetry and other forms of
expression (eg. music) in the level of abstraction they offer? How important
are the poet's intentions? What about the circumstances under which a given
poem was written, are they important, or are they artefacts of the dead
past?

[2] In case you missed it, [minstrelsd] is a parallel discussion group to
[minstrels], where list-members (not just Martin and myself) exchange
occasional emails about the poems we run, poets, and poetry. If you'd like
to join, simply send a blank mail to .

[Mintstrels Links]

This week's theme: "named verse forms".
Sestina: Poem #904, The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina -- Miller Williams
Sonnet:  Poem #905, I will put Chaos into fourteen lines -- Edna St. Vincent
Millay
Triolet: Poem #906, To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train -- Frances Cornford
Pantoum: Poem #907, Miss Charlotte Brown, Librarian, Goes Mad -- Felix Jung

For a truly brilliant pantoum, see
Poem #195, Juggler, Magician, Fool - A Pantoum  -- Peter Schaeffer

27 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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