Natasha Tretheway hits a homerun over at Poetry Daily today with a pantoum that pretty much blows my mind.
Though I went through a phase in which I was trying to write a lot of formal poetry, I rarely do so these days, prefering to try to find an organic shape for my poetry rather than beginning with a preconceived idea of what the poems should be. However, I remain impressed by the skillful, artful use of form.
I'm particularly interested in forms that repeat lines or words. French forms like the sestina, the villanelle, and the canzone fascinate me. A well-written sestina like Elizabeth Bishop's "Sestina" dazzles me, and not only because the form is so hard to write well. I'm also taken by Bishop's ability to use the repetitive form to underscore what's happening in the poem. Like the repeated pattern of the sestina form, grief circles back on itself & keeps landing on the same images time & again.
Tretheway's use of the pantoum, a Maylasian form is another case in point. "Rotation" is a perfect marriage of form & content. Tretheway imagines her father as a waning moon, turning away from her as he recedes into memory. The careful repetition of the lines mirrors memory, how the speaker returns to this moment again & again. The repeated lines also suggest a kind of mirroring between father & daughter, just as the stanzas mirror each other.
On a related note, I have a pantoum in the newly-released Aspects of Robinson: Homage to Weldon Kees, an anthology that incudes some wonderful poetry written by a host of talented poets: Al Maginnes, David Graham, & others. I highly recommend it.
The Function of Poetry
[T]he function of poetry, like that of science, can only be fulfilled by the conception of harmonies that become clearer as they grow richer. As the chance note that comes to be supported by a melody becomes in that melody determinate and necessary, and as the melody, when woven into a harmony, is explicated in that harmony and fixed beyond recall; so the single emotion, the fortuitous dream, launched by the poet into the world of recognizable and immortal forms, looks in that world for its ideal supports and affinities. It must find them or else be blown back among the ghosts. The highest ideality is the comprehension of the real. Poetry is not at its best when it depicts a further possible experience, but when it initiates us, by feigning something which as an experience is impossible, into the meaning of the experience which we have actually had.
George Santayana, “The Elements and Function of Poetry,” Aesthetics and the Arts (McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1968), edited by Lee A. Jacobus Thank you, Jim Finnegan, for the quote.
O for a muse of fire,