On my poem “A Pantoum for Aceh”

April 21, 2011

Photograph by Ernest Goh

The world is rarely an ordered or orderly place.  Poetic forms often seem to try to impose order or uncover it by using rhyme and repetition.

Repetition especially indicates an order that may, in fact, not be in our experience of the world, yet it can be one of the most comforting uses of language.

When the tsunami of 2004 hit coastal Aceh, Indonesia, it turned their world upside down — in some very profound and powerful ways. So much destruction was left in its wake, yet the tsunami also brought rebuilding and healing to that region. Where there had been strife and conflict, the people came together in the wake of the disaster.

Ernest Goh‘s photographs of the post-tsunami devastation in Aceh were the subject of a competition some time ago, which solicited poems in response to the images.  Because the pantoum originated in Malaysia in the fifteenth-century, I thought it a particularly useful form to approach the subject matter.

The pantoum is composed of four-line stanzas with the second and fourth lines of each stanza becoming the first and third lines of the next stanza, and the last line of the poem repeating the first line.

Here is my poem, “A Pantoum for Aceh”:

 

Think of the world turned upside down,

The boat on the mud simulating the sea.

The wave beating down on the coast was brown.

Two-hundred-thousand swept into the sea.

 

The boat on the mud simulating the sea;

Remember the baby doll rising out of the flood.

Two-hundred-thousand swept into the sea.

The mosque, still standing, is covered in mud.

 

Remember the baby doll rising out of the flood?

Think of the houses, each righted by mercy;

The mosque, still standing, is cleaned of its mud.

Can you ever get dry after soaking in sea?

 

Think of the houses, each righted by mercy;

Building back better, lifted up from the ground.

Can you ever get dry after soaking in sea?

Rebuilding a land that was altered and drowned.

 

Building back better, lifted up from the ground.

The wave beating down on the coast was brown.

Rebuilding a land that was altered and drowned:

Think of the world turned upside down.

 

–Scott Edward Anderson, 2009

Advertisements

3 Responses to “On my poem “A Pantoum for Aceh””

  1. llbarkat Says:

    Ah, you did it. Used the alteration of punctuation to vary the line. You got fancy on us, just as we hoped someone would…

    http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2013/03/04/5-great-ways-to-write-a-pantoum/

    I especially liked the feel of the last line. Such finality compared to its first appearance. Like a wave that has ended, if that be possible.


    • Thanks, Tweetspeak! You so got what I was trying to do with this pantoum — better than anyone thus far. So good to have a reader who is both miracle and movement!

      And nice to know I got close to the mark with this one.


  2. […] Appadurai a few of my poems (my book was not yet out) and he offered to translate one of them, “Pantoum for Aceh,” into Tamil for a Canadian-based Tamil-language journal, URAIYAADAL, which was published in 2014 […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: