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.
[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 . 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.  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 , 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?  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