The Pantoum

The pantoum originated in Malaysia in the fifteenth-century as a short folk poem, typically made up of two rhyming couplets that were recited or sung. However, as the pantoum spread and Western writers altered and adapted the form, the importance of rhyming and brevity diminished. The modern pantoum is a poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first.

The pantoum was especially popular with French and British writers in the nineteenth century, including Charles Baudelaire and Victor Hugo, who is credited with introducing the form to European writers. The pantoum gained popularity among contemporary American writers such as Anne Waldman and Donald Justice after John Ashbery published the form in his 1956 book, Some Trees.

I’ve enjoyed writing pantoums about subjects that seem to ask for repetition, such as a mood that comes and goes or details of a place that transform with each additional line. A fun challenge is making the repeated lines shift meaning by changing the punctuation or some of the words slightly so that instead of circling back, it feels more like a spiral. Stop by Gia Gelato on Saturday at 11am for a workshop on the pantoum.

Bio: Aileen Bassis is a poet and visual artist in Jersey City working in book arts, printmaking, photography and installation. Her use of text in art led her to explore another creative life as a poet. She’s studied poetry at Poets House and the 92nd St. Y Unterberg Center in NYC and attended writing conferences at Breadloaf, Frost Place and Colgate University. Her poems have been published in B O D Y, Stone Canoe, Milo Journal, Specs Journal, Spillway, Grey Sparrow Journal, Canary, Amoskeag, The Pinch and others.

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