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  • Writer's pictureKaecey McCormick

Learn How to Write a Pantoum!

I try to write a poem every day. Some days, the poem pours out of me, and I could write line after line without too much struggle. Other days, creating a poem reminds me of slogging through wetland muck—exhausting, slow, and not much fun.


On days like this, I find myself falling into form. Something about knowing the structure helps me scaffold my way into a narrative or lyric piece. This weekend, as I sat mired in the muck of my writing, I turned to the pantoum.


The pantoum is a Malaysian verse form originally adapted by French poets. Pantoums are written in a series of quatrains (four-line stanzas), with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next quatrain.


This repetition adds interest and a musical resonance to the poem. There’s no set length, and this repetition continues throughout the poem until the final stanza where the first and third lines of the poem are traditionally repeated as the second and fourth (final) lines of the last quatrain.


Of course, poet’s can vary the form as they choose, as you can see in the following two examples. The first is a lovely pantoum, “Malaysian Moon,” written by my friend Lisa Scott-Ponce and originally published in the anthology Celebrate Creativity (2020); the second is a pantoum called “Nocturne,” written by poet Sadakichi Hartmann in 1904:


Example 1: Malaysian Moon by Lisa Scott-Ponce


My final night in Kuala Lumpur

An ivory moon peeks from behind inky wisps of clouds

Tiny Caroline is nestled in my lap

The moon will be like this again, but she won’t


An ivory moon peeks from behind inky wisps of clouds

Her silky black hair reflects sparkling moonbeams

The moon will be like this again, but she won’t

Beloved Malaysian granddaughter, wrapped in my arms


Her silky black hair reflects sparkling moonbeams

Creamy, dreamy, mysterious moon!

Beloved Malaysian granddaughter, wrapped in my arms

Cold and uncaring, the moon overlooks us


Creamy, dreamy, mysterious moon!

My final night in Kuala Lumpur

Cold and uncaring, the moon overlooks us

Lucky moon, watching Caroline always



Example 2: Nocturne by Sadakichi Hartmann


Upon the silent sea-swept land

The dreams of night fall soft and gray,

The waves fade on the jeweled sand

Like some lost hope of yesterday.


The dreams of night fall soft and gray

Upon the summer-colored seas,

Like some lost hope of yesterday,

The sea-mew’s song is on the breeze.


Upon the summer-colored seas

Sails gleam and glimmer ghostly white,

The sea-mew’s song is on the breeze

Lost in the monotone of night.


Sails gleam and glimmer ghostly white,

They come and slowly drift away,

Lost in the monotone of night,

Like visions of a summer-day.


They shift and slowly drift away

Like lovers’ lays that wax and wane,

The visions of a summer-day

Whose dreams we ne’er will dream again.


Like lovers’ lays wax and wane

The star dawn shifts from sail to sail,

Like dreams we ne’er will dream again;

The sea-mews follow on their trail.


The star dawn shifts from sail to sail,

As they drift to the dim unknown,

The sea-mews follow on their trail

In quest of some dreamland zone.


In quest of some far dreamland zone,

Of some far silent sea-swept land,

They are lost in the dim unknown,

Where waves fade on jeweled sand

And dreams of night fall soft and gray,

Like some lost hope of yesterday.


The form might sound confusing, but with the help of a grid or “cheat sheet,” writing a pantoum isn’t difficult. And for me this past weekend, it helped me push past the block I felt forming in my brain to create a poem.


Whether you write poetry frequently or have never written a poem, I recommend trying the pantoum on for size to exercise your creative muscles. It’s a fun way to dip a toe into poetry for beginners, and for experienced poets, it offers a refreshing change.


To make writing a poem in this form more accessible, here’s a free creativity helper: Producing Pantoums!


If you try your hand at writing a pantoum, let me know in the comments by sharing it with me over email!


Happy writing,


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