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A Lesson in Lyric Form | Poetry Corner

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You don’t have to be a poet to love the lush lyrics of finely wrought words – but poets do know how to link them, how to pluck out the soft, deft pieces to stitch together that leave the reader breathless, intimate.

I was lucky enough, blessed beyond belief, to have the opportunity to study poetry for a week in a tiny Medieval village in the south of France with the incomparable Marilyn Kallet. She was my English advisor in college, and at her persistence (for I had not yet grown into my skin as a poet, I did not yet own that title) I put an ocean between my four year old son and myself and learned to breathe in the moment, how to wrestle and pluck and place and quicken words into poems that have been published and, hopefully, made a couple of people nod and exhale in acknowledgement, in comfort, in agreement.

While I’m a sucker for free verse, for the fluid movement of imagery that settles where it will, part of what Marilyn taught us was the application of form to poetry – different styles of sliding words into place. One particular form I rather like is called a pantoum. As Marilyn says:

The pantoum is a Malaysian form, adapted by the French. The stanzas are four lines, and the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The stanza is a couplet in which the third line of the first stanza becomes the first line of the couplet, and the first line of the first stanza becomes the last line of the couplet. American poets have tinkered with the form; Donald Justice wrote great ones.

Writing in such a strict form is challenging but rewarding, and it’s interesting to approach something as lofty and lovely as writing poetry with the rigidity of applied form. But it’s fun, and stretches your imagination and hones your craft: here is a poem I wrote in France which Marilyn says is a pantoum. I hope you enjoy.

Tattoo

Strawberry juice stains my fingertips

printing your skin

leaving my mark of madness and possession

sticky kisses on the flesh of my beloved

 

Printing your skin

ink in swirling whirls

sticky kisses on the flesh of my beloved

your daughter’s face drawn by hand on curved muscle

 

Ink in swirling whirls sinking into sinew

a star on my wrist shows the way

Your daughter’s face drawn, frowns, her eyes are your shape

Without words you teach her how to love

 

Leaving my mark

strawberry juice stains your fingertips – lick

*

For more about the pantoum, visit http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poetic-form-pantoum

I highly recommend the poetry of Marilyn Kallet, who writes with a sensual, organic force that makes me hum with the power of being a woman, a poet and an artist. Find out more about her and her work at http://www.marilynkallet.com/

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About Tomi Wiley (38 Articles)
Tomi L. Wiley is the Poetry and Short Fiction Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee.com. She has written and edited for media including Southern Living and Oxford American magazines, has been published in the literary anthologies Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, Telling Tales, Maypop and the Southeast Review, has coordinated panels for the Southern Festival of Books, spoken on the creative writing process at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is a past president of the Tennessee Writers Alliance. She lives in Knoxville, where she is writing her first novel with the help of lots of wine, goat cheese and the Barefoot Contessa.

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