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Wednesday, June 9, 2010


For Big Tent Poetry

This week’s prompt
Emotion is in our poetry – on some level, be it evocative or exploratory, empathetic or explosive.
This week’s prompt is about anger. Maybe something or someone has pissed you off recently – someone you know or someone you don’t. Maybe it’s personal; maybe it’s philosophical. Maybe something in the Gulf of Mexico has you seething and frustrated. Maybe there are old hurts that still sting.
We want to explore that anger this week, but we want to do it in a controlled way. We want to focus our anger. While using emotion in our work can be fantastic, sometimes our poems can become overwrought unless we handle heat deftly. Sometimes the poem is more rant than revelation, or a lecture instead of a lesson or metaphor. Although that may be satisfying on a cathartic level, we might not get as much out of our poem as we could have had we focused that emotion and used it like a tool.
I read
Bill Moyer’s Fooling with Words recently. His interview with Shirley Geok-Lin Lim was striking. Lim said she used the strictest form structure she could think of to “control her anger,” in this case anger directed at the Chinese one-child policy that resulted in female infanticide. Out of her focused anger she wrote “Pantoun for Chinese Women.”
This week why don’t you try doing what Lim did? Use repetition, in the form of a pantoum, to focus your anger in the unique voice of poetry.
Pantoums aren’t as scary as one might think. You don’t have to rhyme or use meter (although poets did when the form was first created).
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.
Read Lim’s poem as an example, or look through the many samples linked at About.com. The Poetry Foundation has a couple of pantoums as does Read Write Poem. Spend a little time thinking about the form – and your anger – and see where it takes you.
The resultant poem does not be polished. Think of it as an exercise, a draft, an experiment in anger management that might create something powerful. Come back Friday and let us know how it went. (And if this exercise doesn’t grab you — try some other means to focus your anger in a poem.)
(If you need a book recommendation, I can happily point you to Moyer’s. Lot’s of great poetry and explanation, via Moyer’s interviews, about how a broad range of talented poets go at their work.)


Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting.
I’ll give you thirty two good reasons;
Better still, thirty two good hidings
One for each stitch the physician sewed.

I’ll give you thirty two good reasons
- Lessons in responsibility
One for each stitch the physician sewed -
Why my reaction is justified.

Lessons in responsibility;
Barely adequate compensation.
While my reaction is justified,
There’s still an outstanding bill to pay.

Barely adequate compensation
To show me the money; call it quits.
There’s still an outstanding bill to pay,
Although cash sounds reasonable… just.

Show me the money; we’ll call it quits?
I’d like to take my own pound of flesh,
Although cash sounds reasonable. Just
Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting.

I’d like to take my own pound of flesh.
Today, dark clouds dominate.
Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting;
Precipitation likely.

Today, dark clouds dominate;
Low pressure system develops;
Precipitation likely.
Long-term forecast, more promising.

Low pressure system develops.
Overcast conditions apply.
Long-term forecast, more promising;
Horizon coming into view.

Overcast conditions apply.
Sunny intervals later;
Horizon coming into view.
Perspective adjustment follows.

Sunny intervals later.
Tomorrow, a clear blue sky.
Perspective adjustment follows.
Today, dark clouds dominate.

Tomorrow, a clear blue sky;
The calm comes after the storm.
Today, dark clouds dominate.
Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting.


  1. I needed a focus for that very thing yesterday. OK I will try.

  2. Thanks to:
    Diane; An excercise in how reaction evolves into reason.
    Magiceye; That was a week ago; thinking more rationally now.

  3. Poor little pup! How's the recovery going? Wonderful progression of emotion, Stan! Your pantoum is amazing!

  4. Oh your poor dog!
    I hope he is doing well
    And I loved how you worked the emotion in this piece excellent work Stan!

  5. Thanks to;
    Marianne; The stitches were removed yesterday.
    Pamela; He was close to death - thought he'd gone at one point. As he recovers, so my attitude adjusts.

  6. Love the way you handled this, and I'm really grateful not to have such a thing to be angry over.
    I'm in the process of trying my first pantoum, and it's not going well at all. like chewing gum while reciting the seven tables on one foot.

  7. Thanks B; The first line and the first word of the repeted lines were where I found most difficulty.

  8. The tight tensions of creating this pantoum somehow overflow and strengthen the drama of simmering anger! A wonderful poem!

  9. Thanks GT; It m,ay have turned out different if I'd started it a couple of days earlier.

  10. What a pantoum! I love how you used actual phrases we can all hear spoken (shouted) in our heads. Poor pup! I can see and feel why you were angry and I am glad the healing is in progress. (This poem reminded me in some way of Joni Mitchell's repetitive refrain/ rant in "Harry's House/ Centerpiece" - not on every recording...)

  11. How terribly sad and wrong...
    I really liked how you changed the topic midway, and yet the topic of weather described your mood. Great idea!
    (I hope your dog is well now, and I hope the arse who owned the other dog has been punished SEVERELY!)

  12. Wow - I would have liked to take my own pound of flesh as well. Hope your canine friend is faring well, Stan. Your pantoum roused anger in ME, so I am going to assume that it worked. =) I really liked how you handled the "just" lines re: "Although cash sounds reasonable… just." and "Although cash sounds reasonable. Just / Don't tell me I'm over-reacting." Great story -- you used this poetic form with mastery, IMO.

  13. I like the way that this pantoum goes full circle, working with the incident, through it, then back into it again. I am so sorry for your dog. What pain he must be in. Hope his recovery will be total.

  14. Wonderful Stan. Well not the event, the telling of it! Nothing brings anger more than injury to pet or loved one...especially injury that could be avoided by responsible people. SHEESH. This piece made me mad. You go, Stan!

  15. BTW....love the new look, if I scroll all the way down, a majestic gray beast appears. Way Cool!!

  16. A strong piece so well crafted - it flows very well and the message is clear, concise, yet rhythmic. Nice work!

  17. Stan, I like your explnation that it is a poem about how reaction evolves into reason. The pantoum form worked well to write your anger. It had a wonderful flow to the stanzas. I am glad your dog is doing better. Poor little thing must have been in awful pain.


  18. Oh, poor pup. I'm glad to hear he is recovering. The wounds looked horrible.

    "Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting" is a terrific line to repeat. And switching to the weather as a metaphor added another layer of intensity.

  19. Thanks to:
    Nan; these phrases and more were certainly shouting in my head.
    Cynthia; It started as just the first half but then I realised it should be about controlling, or at least containing anger, and I wrote the second part as a separate piece before realising I could link the two with the repeated lines.
    Linda; amazing what a few days can do to diffuse a situation, and seeing him running about as though nothing happened makes me happy for him.
    I intended to use the word 'just' to mean 'fair' and fitting it in was a bit of an obstacle until 'just about' clicked.
    Mary; The scars will take a bit of time to heal, fur grow back etc. but so far, so good.
    Brenda; Sadly, the prompt was perfectly timed for both the initial reaction and its development.
    The elephant was an obvious choice for me.
    Tumblewords; Writing it had some therapeutic benefits too.
    Diane; I was unsure about the form at first, but as I wrote down my thoughts, it just happened.
    Deb; It's two pieces stitched (no pun) together, to cover all the elements of the prompt.

  20. Our pets are family.You have every reason to be angry..very upsetting.

  21. Thanks Rall; He has an ugly patch of dry, flaky skin at his rear end, but he's back to being a playful pup again now.

  22. How awful. It made me angry reading it. My dog was similarly attacked last summer and it nearly killed him. Your use of repetition in the pantoum is very effective. Anger has a way of making us repeat our outrage and you do this very well, giving the poem a lot more expression.

  23. I especially appreciate the movement into discussion of the weather, seemingly innocuous but so much more.

    Wow. I nodded along with so many of the comments. Phew. Wow.

    Read my Anger Pantoum here.

  24. Such a little creature to suffer so! Glad to know he's much better. Your pantoum is very well constructed, Stan. You rise to every occasion. The new look is great too!

  25. Thanks to:
    1965; I'm amazed how quickly he recovered.
    Julie; Coincidentaly, it's the rainy season here, but we've just had 3 or 4 days of unbroken sunshine.
    Derrick; Bring it on - I'll have a go. And I see you've made some changes too.

  26. Nothing worse than being told you're over-reacting. Like Julie, I found myself nodding along, too...

  27. Thanks Erin; It's just about in the past now, thankfully.

  28. i like this stan.... the process of anger and the release.... glad to hear the pup made it through and all is well.... our animals are indeed our family and when attacked or hurt we react justly... talk to me about vet's bills egads... stirred up ohhh...like the new look too....

  29. Thanks One more believer; No outstanding bill to pay anymore.

  30. It would take me a while to work through that anger as well. I like how it slowly dissipates through the poem. I'm glad to hear the dog is ok.

  31. Thanks Francis; He's a quick healer, but it wasn't a pretty sight.