WITS Voices: Repeat After Me

By Imani Sims, WITS Writer-in-Residence

It is Day Six in a ten-day intensive with middle school students who have the best examples of poetic devices:

“What is a Metaphor?” A shy hand goes up and I call on them.

“A comparison between two things not using like or as.”

“Good! Can anyone give me an example?” A confident, waving hand catches my eye and I call on them.

“The noodles were slugs.” Laughter erupts in the classroom.

“Ok, that will work! Noodles and slugs it is. Thank you.”

“What is repetition―and how do you use it?” Another shy hand goes up and I call on them.

“Um, isn’t that like when you repeat a word or something like that?”

“CORRECT! Is it only a word you can repeat?”

Two voices shout: “NO! You can repeat lines or groups of words.”

“Very good! Alright, let’s talk about one of the ways we can repeat entire lines in a poem. I am going to teach you all a form poem called a pantoum.”

The pantoum, a Malaysian form, is one of the easiest ways I convinced my students to make an imagery mash-up, utilizing metaphors in a poem. Not only is the formula for the pantoum easy to understand, it also encourages students to deepen their imagery in a way that clarifies the meaning of a poem or desired message.

For high school students, this form can be lengthened and given a specific story to tell or a word count to abide by per line. There are tons of variations that make this lesson adaptable for any age group.

 

The Pantoum Form

Stanza 1
A
B
C
D

Stanza 2
B
E
D
F

Stanza 3
E
G
F
H

Stanza 4
G
I (or A or C)
H
J (or A or C)

 

Pantoum Example

Riding in Cars with Black Girls
By: Imani Sims

Head nod magic trance
Ocean blue afro magic
Blow smoke signals back
Survival wasn’t optional: past.

Ocean blue Afro magic
Bounces to bass anthem
Survival wasn’t optional past
This moment of succulence.

Bounces to bass anthem
Speakers dictate hip wind
This moment of succulence.
Truth seeping out bone.

Speakers dictate hip wind
Survival wasn’t optional past
This moment of succulence.
Head nod magic trance.

Note: “Riding in Cars with Black Girls” was recently chosen for an art show at The Factory in Seattle. It opens April 14th, 2016.


Imani Sims spun her first performance poem at the age of fourteen. She has gone on to teach performance poetry to youth and adults, publish her first collection of poetry entitled, Twisted Oak, on Requiem Press, and founded an interdisciplinary arts production company, Split Six Productions. She currently teaches at Broadview-Thomson K-8. 

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