Friday, December 5, 2014

Menominee River Pantoums



Dear George,
In our poetry writing class we learned about a type of poem called a pantoum.  Pantoums are based on a Malayan form that goes back to the fifteenth century.  They’re composed in a series of four-line stanzas.  Lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza become lines 1 and 3 in the second stanza, and so on.  At the end of the poem lines 1 and 3 are repeated in the final stanza.  The lines may or may not rhyme.  The format for a five-stanza pantoum would look like this: ABCD BEDF EGFH GIHJ IAJC.  Baudelaire and Victor Hugo were among writers who popularized the pantoum in the nineteenth century, and Anne Waldman and Donald Justice are among contemporary American poets who have written pantoums.  Pantoums move along slowly, and, because of their interlocking pattern, the lines seem to fill the poem with echoes.

I tried writing a couple of pantoums, and it’s not easy.  Lines not only need to rhyme and connect with one another within a stanza, but they also have to then fit with new lines in the next stanza, and finally come together at the end.  For pantoum topics, I picked my childhood experiences growing up on the Menominee River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  I’ve written various stories about my Menominee childhood before, but putting these experiences in pantoum form gives them a distinct flavor.  Here’s how my Menominee River pantoums are coming along.  (As far as I can tell, one never actually finishes a pantoum.)
Love,
Dave  




1.  River House

We moved to the river in forty-six
There were no other children nearby
The field was home to horseflies and ticks
At dusk we could hear the loon cry

There were no other children nearby
We lived on a long gravel road           
At dusk we could hear the loon cry
My grandfather built our abode

We lived on a long gravel road
The oaks were sixty feet high
My grandfather built our abode 
It opened to the river and the sky

The oaks were sixty feet high
Our house was of Norway pine
It opened to the river and the sky
Close friends came to talk and to dine

Our house was of Norway pine
My mother cooked whitefish and liver
Close friends came to talk and to dine
Mallard ducks flew in on the river

My mother cooked whitefish and liver
We had no locks on our doors
Mallard ducks flew in on the river
Four foot snakes lived under our floors

We had no locks on our doors
We climbed on the willow tree
Four foot snakes lived under our floors
My sister got stung by a bee

We climbed on the willow tree
We played on our basketball court
My sister got stung by a bee
In the woods we built our own fort

We played on our basketball court
We had acorn fights in the yard
In the woods we built our own fort
Swimming the river was hard

We had acorn fights in the yard
We shot cans with the twenty-two
Swimming the river was hard
The dogs got raw bones to chew

We shot cans with the twenty-two
My mother grew violets and lilies
The dogs got raw bones to chew
We children fell prey to the willies

My mother grew violets and lilies
The trillium bloomed in the spring
We children fell prey to the willies
My dad built my sister a swing

The trillium bloomed in the spring
The field was home to horseflies and ticks
My dad built my sister a swing
We moved to the river in forty-six





2.  The River

We lived far out on the River Road
Pig Island was across the way
Down the river the flotsam flowed
We swam from our yard every day

Pig Island was across the way
We took like fish to the water
We swam from our yard every day
My brother trapped muskrats and otter

We took like fish to the water
Our mother watched from the lawn
My brother trapped muskrats and otter
We might spot a doe or a fawn

Our mother watched from the lawn
Fishermen passed by the shore
We might spot a doe or a fawn
At sundown the herons would soar

Fishermen passed by the shore
The bloodsuckers stuck to our toes
At sundown the herons would soar
I sprayed my brother with the hose

The bloodsuckers stuck to our toes
We'd wade near the bank with our dogs
I sprayed my brother with the hose
We built a crude raft from dry logs

We'd wade near the bank with our dogs
Indian Island was our family trip
We built a crude raft from dry logs
We sailed forth in our pirate ship

Indian Island was our family trip
Dragonflies rode on our boat
We sailed forth in our pirate ship
We'd jump into the water and float

Dragonflies rode on our boat
The snapping turtles made us wary
We'd jump into the water and float
The river was thrilling but scary

The snapping turtles made us wary
Great hawks swooped down from the sky
The river was thrilling but scary
We feared there was quicksand nearby

Great hawks swooped down from the sky
Down the river the flotsam flowed
We feared there was quicksand nearby
We lived far out on the River Road





3.  Winter

Chipmunks gathered nuts from the cedar
The north winds blew in with a squall
My mother fed birds at her feeder
The snowdrifts grew massive and tall

The north winds blew in with a squall
The deer came to munch the dried weeds
The snowdrifts grew massive and tall
Tiny chickadees searched for their seeds

The deer came to munch the dried weeds
The whole of the forest seemed dead
Tiny chickadees searched for their seeds
I tramped through the woods with my sled

The whole of the forest seemed dead
We fished through the ice on the river
I tramped through the woods with my sled
The wind from the bay made us shiver

We fished through the ice on the river
The icicles stretched to the ground
The wind from the bay made us shiver
The night sky was black with no sound

The icicles stretched to the ground
Dad cut down a tall Christmas spruce
The night sky was black with no sound
My mother made ham and a goose

Dad cut down a tall Christmas spruce
Our cousins arrived Christmas eve
My mother made ham and a goose
I played checkers with Peter and Steve

Our cousins arrived Christmas eve
We followed deer tracks in the snow
I played checkers with Peter and Steve
The fireplace gave off its glow

We followed deer tracks in the snow
By March the ice started to melt
The fireplace gave off its glow
The river was teeming with smelt

By March the ice started to melt
We called it Chinese Bells Day
The river was teeming with smelt
The skies were milky and gray

We called it Chinese Bells Day
A robin appeared on the lawn
The skies were milky and gray
Spring opened her eyes with a yawn

A robin appeared on the lawn
Chipmunks gathered nuts from the cedar
Spring opened her eyes with a yawn
My mother fed birds at her feeder





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