Writing Pantoum Poem: A Farewell to Manzanar

Taken from “Versing Life Together”, Chapter Eight  my book Teaching Middle School English Language Arts: Incorporating 21st Century Technologies about writing pantoum poems.

One pattern that yields successful poems in middle school is a version of the less-familiar pantoum, a poem consisting of eight non-rhyming lines each are used twice. A pantoum is less intimidating for reluctant poets and works well because it is based more on repetition that on rhyme or rhythm patterns. It also can be used as an alternative book report to capture key events, a memorable scene, or a favorite character from a literary work or from a life experience. You may have noticed a student sample in the chapter about the 20th century novel. Here is a sample poem written when a seventh grade class finished reading, A Farewell to Manzanar by John Houston and Jeanne Watasuki Houston, an autobiographical novel about Japanese internment during World War II.

Choose a Character, Situation or Theme and Write a Pantoum Poem

Write your title at the top of your final draft and at the bottom the title and author of the book you read. Punctuate that book title correctly and edit for grammar, spelling, and usage.

Begin by writing four original lines:

(1) When I was seven
(2) My family was evacuated.
(3) We rode a bus
(4) To Manzanar.

Repeat lines two and four, and add lines five and six to expand ideas introduced in lines two and four, like this:

(2) My family was evacuated.
(5) Only forty-eight hours to prepare, then
(4) To Manzanar.
(6) We rode in shock, but together

Repeat lines five and six, and add lines seven and eight to expand ideas mentioned in lines five and six, like this:

(5) Only forty-eight hours to prepare.
(7) Mama, stressed and frustrated, broke all the dishes.
(6) We rode in shock, but together.
(8) Together, except for Papa.

Finally, repeat lines one, three, seven and eight in this order:

(7) Mama, stressed and frustrated, broke all the dishes.
(3) We rode a bus
(8) Together, except for Papa.
(1) When I was seven.

The final poem, then, reads

When I was seven
My family was evacuated.
We rode a bus
To Manzanar.

My family was evacuated.
Only forty-eight hours to prepare, then
To Manzanar.
We rode in shock, but together.

Only forty-eight hours to prepare, then
Mama, stressed and frustrated, broke all the dishes.
We rode in shock, but together.
Together, except for Papa.

Mama, stressed and frustrated, broke all the dishes.
We rode a bus
Together, except for Papa.
When I was seven.

The result is a lovely poem that captures the essence of the story. If you try this pattern yourself and you can see how much grammar students must review to make sure pronouns are the right number and gender and that the verbs are the right tense to make sense as they add more lines!  Here’s link to pantoum worksheet with instructions.

 

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December 3, 2011

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