Poetry and Pantoums

Tomorrow night I’m going to be in Madison, Wisconsin, reading my poem, “Angry Catholic Woman” from the GirlChild Press anthology, Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta! I feel nervous about it, as I’ve never considered myself much of a spoken-word artist, but I like Madison, and it was so easy to commit back in the summer when the thought of reading in front of strangers (and a few friends) felt so far away. But then, I’ve never considered myself much of a poet, either (my eyes always glaze over calls for poetry submissions),  but that wasn’t enough to keep me from submitting this one.

Of course, I feel a bit as thought I cheated: I used a template.

I wrote “Angry Catholic Woman” shortly after my friend Theodora introduced me to the Pantoum, a poetry form that follows a specific pattern of repetition. So I decided to try my own Pantoum out, and voila! About six months later, I was holding the acceptance letter in my hands (which is still hanging on the fridge, by the way — GirlChild Press has gorgeous stationary). So if you’re like me, and don’t consider yourself a poet, or even if you do, the Pantoum is definitely a form worth trying.

And if you’re not able to make it to A Room of One’s Own for the reading tomorrow night, or if you just want to see what a finished pantoum looks like, here is mine:

I am an angry Catholic woman
I cross my arms, don’t fold my hands
I slouch in the pew
I drop post-it notes in with dollar bills during the offertory.

I cross my arms, don’t fold my hands
The notes say, “Jesus challenged the status quo.”
I drop post-it notes in with dollar bills during the offertory.
The notes say, “Male and Female God created them.”

The notes say, “Jesus challenged the status quo,”
so “Support the ordination of women.”
The notes say, “Male and Female God created them.”
I cried the first time I saw a woman at the altar

So “Support the ordination of women.”
The priest wouldn’t wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday
I cried the first time I saw a woman at the altar
The priest wouldn’t wash their feet because their nylons were a hassle.

The priest wouldn’t wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday
He started when I left the Church, I like to think my anger had something to do with it
The priest wouldn’t wash their feet because their nylons were a hassle.
Still, I go barefoot and I love the feel of clean feet.

He started when I left the Church, I like to think my anger had something to do with it
But I only explored, traded one for another, always came back.
Still, I go barefoot and I love the feel of clean feet.
And you are not fit to untie the strap of my sandal.

But I only explored, traded one for another, always came back.
I slouch in the pew.
And you are not fit to untie the strap of my sandal.
I am an angry Catholic woman.

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4 Responses to Poetry and Pantoums

  1. Jenna says:

    You did not “cheat.” You used a poetic form, not a template. Actually, I cringe at you calling it a template. Poetic forms are the tools of the trade, they’re what you’re supposed to be using. When I saw Franz Wright lecture about the poetic craft at the Dodge Poetry festival earlier this year, he spoke about how new students of poetry tend to have trouble grasping that they should be learning to write poetic forms such as sonnets and sestinas, etc. From there, he says, even the “free verse” a poet composes will include a little bit of poetic form.

    • This is a good point, and so obvious that it troubles me that I’d never heard it before, even after taking several college poetry classes. Of course we should start with the existing forms and then learn from there — I guess that’s the rule with all writing — you can break the rules, but you need to learn how to use them first. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing poetry is that it seems a bit too much that “anything goes,” and then I don’t know where to begin. Starting with set poetic structures definitely makes the whole idea of poetry less intimidating.

  2. Jenna says:

    Nicely put — that is definitely the point Wright was trying to express. It was really inspiring, because in the past I had it backwards: I thought you could write whatever you wanted first (“anything goes”), and work up to learning all about the forms.

  3. […] only made it halfway through April writing a poem-a-day, but that was far enough to produce “Angry Catholic Woman,” which was published by Girl Child Press.  Hopefully this year will produce something […]

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