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Poetry, Poetry, Poetry and Repetition

By Charlotte Van Schaack


If you have spoken to me about poetry then you probably know that one of my favorite poetic forms is the pantoum, a poem of any length using four-line stanzas where the second and fourth lines of a stanza become the first and third of the subsequent stanza. The pantoum is a Malaysian form that first began in French and English.


I believe that I first learned about pantoums as a rising junior in high school when I attended a writing camp. At that time, however, I called them “pontoons.” My writing of them began with a four stanza poem summarizing the witches’ role in Macbeth, where each line was a complete thought with a period endstop. (As a side note, I really don’t know what to say about my early writing endeavors.) When I began reading other examples, I learned that some pantoums used varied punctuation across repeated lines, while others would place punctuation in the middle of a line. Then the lines could come to have new meanings based on what else surrounds them. In case you need a visual of what one of these poems looks like, I am going to attempt to create a visual, as well as linking a pantoum that I had published in AmLit several semesters ago (Empty Echoes). My love for this poetic form largely comes from the way that the writing seems to reinvent itself as it progresses.


A three stanza pantoum might look like this:


Line A

Line B

Line C

Line D


Line B

Line E

Line D

Line F


Line E

Line G

Line F

Line H


There is a variety where the pairs of repeating lines rhyme with one another in an AbAb scheme. Some pantoums also have the first and third lines of the first stanza as the second and fourth of the final stanza. Others may use the first line as the last line. There are all sorts of variations that a writer may choose to implement in order to create emphasis or another sort of twist to the reader’s interpretation. One of the biggest strengths to repetition is the way that it enables slight differentiations.


Now having read this I would love for you to go out and try writing a pantoum for yourself! Or maybe you’ll be interested in trying out another poetic form. Perhaps a rondel, sestina, villanelle, or even a blitz.


This blog post was inspired by the Poetry Foundation’s recent prose series called “Not Too Hard To Master.”


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