Pantoums: The Boulder’s Dream

Photo by Jakub Novacek on

This week I was happy to see what I’m calling my ‘experimental pantoums’ appear in One Hand Clapping. The magazine is one of those online gems, fully of interesting stuff. This is all down to the editorial choices – it’s elegantly curated and varied. I think journal and magazine choice quality is subjective, I tell mentees that they should submit work the magazines and journals they respect and who feature work that they themselves like to read over where they think their work should appear, but there is definitely a difference in quality between a hastily thrown together online magazine and something like this one in which thought has gone into the aesthetics, the curation, the identity of the magazine. Putting together a magazine is a labour of love that takes many more hours of time that perhaps is imagined. I strongly suggest you settle into a comfy chair with a nice cup of tea and dive into the work in One Hand Clapping for an hour or so, and you can do that by following this link, where to you also find my pantoum sequence: Link to One Hand Clapping.

Pantoums are a nice form. I think I’ve said before that I like repeating forms. I like them because a lot of my work is about the overlaying of self over self, the seams between past versions of self and current, the way that times move in a non-linear fashion and often life events feel like they have just happened. This is, obviously, a difficult concept to capture in a poem. Any big concept is difficult to capture in a poem. Structured forms can help in that regard. Where free verse is structured from the inside, structured forms are containers, or exterior scaffolding of the poem. They can shape how the reader comes to the poem and a poet can use a structured form to enhance the content of the poem. Which is what my aim was for the pantoum sequence.

The pantoum form is derived from the ‘Pantun’ which is a Malay form, an oral poetry form thought to be older than written language. The idea that I can capture my own poem, about my own experiences, in a poem form derived from a form that was passed mouth to mouth in a part of the world far, far away, and that there is a link there; between the timelessness of language and story telling and more – humanity and our need to communicate via art, it gives me goose bumps.

A traditional pantoum, the english version at least, has repeating lines and looks a bit like this:

(find out more by following this link: wikipedia)

Stanza 1

Stanza 2

Stanza 3

Stanza 4
I (or A or C)
J (or A or C)

I do think that once you get to grips with a form you can and should explore it. Most structured forms were created in non-english languages, a lot of them are hundreds and hundreds of years old, it is, therefore, unnecessary to be a purist about the form, in fact it can be detrimental to the content if you try to remain rigidly attached to some structured forms as it ends up bending the content to breaking point, you end up sounding like you are pretending to be hundreds of years old yourself. If intentional that’s great, but if not, that’s distracting. Content is king in the world of poetry, the form you choose affects the reading of the content, it can enhance it, but it can also strangle it.

The boulder in my poems is a real erratic boulder, you can read a bit about it here, though I should add there is a factual inaccuracy in this blog – the boulder was moved in 1987, not 1947. I watched it being moved, I was nine. But everything else is right and it gives a nice over view of the history of it, and pictures of it. Link to The Crossgates Boulder blog

I’m writing a lot about my place in the landscape I grew up in and have remained in right now. Every morning I watch the sun rise while I sit in my office at 7am putting the work in. I’m mostly working in prose right now as I work on my big prose project. The next Spelt dawn Chorus sessions start in January, you can come and jin me for five days of 7am writing in the deep sleep of January dark if you’d like, here’s the link where you can book your place and find out more – link to Dawn Chorus. And if you fancy writing poems with me I’m running a four week zoom poetry group in January too. It’ll be nice to see you there. Here’s the link: Prompts and Poems Writing Group

I am thinking a lot about how my own magazine Spelt is run too right now, and how we will survive in a place where people are strapped for cash. Changes are afoot. So it’s even more special to see work, quite experimental and long work, being taken and platformed by magazines like One Hand Clapping. Bravo for editors who care about their writers and their readers I say. From this writer and editor, I salute you.

If you want to read some more pantoums, you can find a good stash of them on the Poetry Foundation website, here’ the link to it: Link to Poetry Foundation website

Until next time


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