Pantoum Form

I have particular affection for the pantoum form as it seems the most representative of my thought processes: circular and repetitive. Anxiety, regret and politics have much in common, I've found. Ask anyone debating or living with me.

Seriously though, the circular nature of the form offers a more associative mode of narrative. This circling makes connections that a more linear narrative would not and provides a satisfying closure.

As Edward Hirsch notes in his description of the form, "It is customary for the second and fourth lines in the last stanza of the poem to repeat the first and third lines of the initial stanza, so that the whole poem circles back to the beginning, like a snake eating its tail.” No wonder, the pantoum structure resonates with me. 

Repetition is a powerful tool for emphasis, and the pantoum is all about repetition, making it a good choice for performances.

Perhaps the most effective strategy though is to tweak the repeated lines either through tone or emphasis or connotation. The callback in comedy draws the listener in with the familiar but adds a slight twist, and the resulting surprise delivers the punch. Tweaking the lines in a pantoum likewise can provide power, push the story along and also demonstrate development, perhaps a change in the narrator’s perception. 

Hirsch states that “the pantoum is always looking back over its shoulder.” Regret and mourning are common themes, but this form can work for humor, particularly a gallows humor. 

You can read more about the pantoum form, its origin and history, excerpted from Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary, and find examples of pantoums at

Now about writing your own pantoum, remember that the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third of the next stanza, on and on, until the final stanza in which the second and fourth lines repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza. Below is an outline to show more clearly the repeated lines for each stanza. 

Line 1:     A
Line 2:    B
Line 3:    C
Line 4:    D

Line 5:    B
Line 6:    E
Line 7:    D
Line 8:    F

Line 9:    E
Line 10:  G
Line 11:   F
Line 12:  H

Line 13:  G
Line 14:  A
Line 15:  H
Line 16:  C

I am fond of the pantoum for selfish reasons too: one of the first poems I got published was a pantoum. “God was in the Water” was included in the anthology Don't Blame the Ugly Mug and later reprinted at Cadence Collective