¶ … Pantoum in Two Poems
The poetic form of the pantoum is prevalent and makes up the structure of the following two poems: My Brother at 3 A.M. By Natalie Diaz and Incident by Natasha Trethewey. Each poet is able to use the pantoum distinctly and with a certain level of aplomb and effectiveness in order to convey the underlying feeling of the overall poem. The pantoum refers to a literary structure which is able to strongly evoke the past, and memories of the past as a result of its dreamy and enchanting repetitions. This form of poetic structure originated in France, derived from one which was evoked from Malaysia in the 15th century; the form first became popular within Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th centuries (Unst, 2013). One of the more riveting aspects of this form of poetic and structural device is that "subtle shifts in meaning that can occur as repeated phrases are revised with different punctuation and thereby given a new context" (poets.org). This allows a more transformative aspect of the literary piece to unfold: it allows the written word and the connected images to evolve and by taking on multiple meanings transcend the literal.
Furthermore, when it comes to meaning and sound, the repetition and the poem's interlocking pattern of rhyme can create a certain amount of incantation among the lines and stanzas: "as lines reverberate between stanzas, they fill the poem with echoes. This intense repetition also slows the poem down, halting its advancement" (poets.org). This is part of the way in which this particular poetic structure can assist in slowing things down and of strongly evoking the past in a meaningful and consistent manner. For some reader's the repetition...
This creates a scenario where some view the repetitive nature as boring or crippling to the overall flow of the poem. Others view the sense of repetition and rhyme and the slowness it creates to also be somewhat negative to the overall form and function of the poem. Regardless, in the poem, My Brother at 3am by Natalie Diaz uses the slowness of inherent within the pantoum to create an overwhelming sense of dread.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
O God, he said, O God.
He wants to kill me, Mom.
Diaz uses the opening of the poem as a means for painting a clear picture of the sense of chaos and of the darkness to come. The imagery is distinct: its 3am. The narrator's brother is weeping on the front steps. There's a strong threat of violence. These are the elements which open the poem and which assert a clear sense of dread. The pantoum allows this sense of dread to be furthered and to be increased by the repetition which is inherent within the form:
When Mom unlocked and opened the front door at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.
He wants to kill me, he told her, looking over his shoulder.
The images and suggestions which Diaz first uses to give the sense of a world atilt and of the clear and present danger is furthered by the repetition and enhanced by the additional information given. Dad, the adult male of the household is asleep. This suggests an even more vulnerable family unit. The information that someone wants to kill the brother is made even more dreadful with…
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