Sean Edgley’s wkshopWORKSHOP

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Have you ever seen the movie Last Year at Marienbad? If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and never watch it. Its strained, deliberately incomprehensible, avant-garde posturing is what contributes to other good, classic European films getting a bad rap. SEAN quote trial

It does, however, try to do in the visual realm what the pantoum does in the aural–send the reader (and writer) into a spiral of sorts via alternating lines of repetition throughout the poem. Adapted from a Malaysian verse form which was originally sung, the pantoum is typically structured like this:

                   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)

As I’ll show later, the formula can also be doubled, forming what I think is a richer, more complex poem. Though lines are repeated, their meanings shift as they are recontextualized within the poem.

This optional assignment was given in a workshop I took at City College, where I got my MFA. My mentor and an amazing poet, Elaine Equi, provides a stunning example of this form:

“A Date with Robbe-Grillet”

What I remember didn’t happen.
Birds stuttering.
Torches huddled together.
The café empty, with no place to sit.

Birds stuttering.
On our ride in the country
the café empty, with no place to sit.
Your hair was like a doll’s.

On our ride in the country
it was winter.
Your hair was like a doll’s
and when we met it was as children.

It was winter
when it rained
and when we met it was as children.
You, for example, made a lovely girl.

When it rained
the sky turned the color of Pernod.
You, for example, made a lovely girl.
Birds strutted.

The sky turned the color of Pernod.
Within the forest
birds strutted
and we came upon a second forest

within the forest
identical to the first.
And we came upon a second forest
where I was alone

only smaller and without music
identical to the first where I was alone

where I alone could tell the story.

My own experience with writing a pantoum was like putting together and taking apart a matryoshka doll, except that the size of the pieces changed every time you touched them. What was hard to avoid was the verbal spell that the poem can leave you in the more you try to read and work through it.

The inspiration for the poem came from a trip I took to a Greek island with a friend while I was living in Hungary. It was the World Cup 2010 and I remember spending the better part of the afternoon drinking a beer called Mythos on a terrace, watching the US team play while my friend explored. When the game ended I found her sitting at the beach watching some kids play in the sand as the sun was sinking into the ocean. I wrote the poem in an attempt to make up for those lost two or three hours.

I’ve written about fifteen versions of the poem, and will probably write more. (What’s ever really finished anyway, right?) 

“Aegina”

The archipelago was strung out like a necklace.
You wore a necklace.

The sunset fell from within us
like a premonition.

You wore a necklace.
Children swam naked
like a premonition
populated with feral cats. 

Children swam naked.
My love was a water organ

populated with feral cats.
On each hill lived an abbess.

My love was a water organ
with no hands but your own.

On each hill lived an abbess.
You watched me naked.

With no hands but your own
we walked arm in arm.

You watched me naked
unconscious of living.

We walked arm in arm.
You were dressed in my perception of you

unconscious of living.
The small of your back was knotted.

You were dressed in my perception of you.
You were naked.

The small of your back was knotted
with my desire.

You were naked.
The ferry was empty

with my desire.
We swam conscious of death.

 


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Though secretly from the Bay Area (shoutout to E-40) Sean has lived and worked in Asia, Europe and more recently, New York. These experiences inform much of his worldview and writing, and in fact many of his poems are like those precious first hours spent in a foreign city, its streets filled with faintly comprehensible language and aimless nirvana. He teaches in Manhattan and lives in Clinton Hill.

 

 

 

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