Pattern Poetry

Pantoums and A Farewell to Manzanar

Pantoums

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.

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 2 and 4, and add lines 5 and 6 to expand ideas introduced in lines 2 and 4, 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 5 and 6, and add lines 7 and 8 to expand ideas mentioned in lines 5 and 6, 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 1, 2, 7 and 8 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!

 Handout for an assignment for which students choose a Character, Situation or Theme and Write a Pantoum Poem.

Excerpt from Teaching Middle School English Language Arts: Incorporating 21st Century Technologies (2010)

 

 

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