Thursday, April 8, 2010

Braided lines form a PANTOUM

The pantoum is derived from a Malaysian form of interlocking four-line stanzas in which lines 2 and 4 of one stanza are used as lines 1 and 3 of the next. The lines may be of any length, and the poem can go on for an indefinite number of stanzas; it may be completed with a final stanza that uses lines 1 and 3 of the first stanza as lines 4 and 2 of the last, closing the circle of the poem.  As with recursion, each stanza provides an impetus for the next.

To illustrate the pantoum's line-patterns, I've constructed a simple example: 

We need to find x
    x greater than 4.
We need to find y—
    y less than eleven.

x greater than 4—
    who knows how large?
y less than eleven—
    it could be negative!

Who knows how large—
    5 or 5 million?
It could be negative—
    don’t be depressed.

5 or 5 million--
    we need to find y!
Don’t be depressed—
    we need to find x.

Wikipedia  provides links to several examples of pantoums.  One of them, Command, by Rachel Barenblat is effective in showing the compelling way that one stanza of a pantoum leans forward to meet the next.  Here are the first two stanzas; the full text is given in Velveteen Rabbi, Barenblat's blog.


A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. --Lev. 6:6

First you dress in linen
then scoop out the ashes.
Stop and wash with water,
then you change your garments

and scoop out the ashes.
Lather, rinse, repeat;
then you change your garments.
No one said it was easy.
. . .

Enriqueta Carrington, writer, translator and Rutgers University mathematics professor, enjoys the challenge of inventing new poetic forms. For example, she has developed a new form which she calls a "tetrahedral pantoum" -- illustrated below in “The Goddess Works Her Loom.” Carrington describes her process in this way: "I wrote six lines and (mentally) placed one line on each of the edges of a tetrahedron, then composed the poem by traveling once around each face. Because each edge borders two faces, each line appears, pantoum-like, twice in the poem." Although this scheme is different from the typical pantoum, Carrington hopes that the pattern gradually becomes visible to the reader--a pattern woven together like the fateful weaving of Ixchel, goddess of childbirth.

The Goddess Works Her Loom

Until at last the pattern is fully there,
who can read the figures that she weaves?
Ixchel sits on her heels, a snake in her hair.

Who can read the figures that she weaves
as she murmurs a lullaby, spell, or prayer?
One mother rejoices, another one grieves,

as she murmurs a lullaby, spell, or prayer
while children drop like tears, or rain, or leaves.
Ixchel sits on her heels, a snake in her hair

while children drop like tears, or rain, or leaves
until at last the pattern is fully there—
one mother rejoices, another one grieves.

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