Friday, July 13, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Pantoums and Other Forms

Pantoums and Other Forms

Remember these two things:

  2. Once in a while it’s fun to try something new!
Keeping these two points in mind, what harm is it going to do? I am a plain speech narrative poet who writes in free verse. Once in a while, I write a Pantoum, a prose poem, or a Prisoner’s Constraint. I have even dipped my toe into the “micro fiction” flash waters. That doesn’t change who I am or what I generally write.

I don’t want to talk about Pantoums today, nor do I want to talk about prose poems, Prisoner’s Constraints or micro fiction. I want to talk about Odes.

Odes are poems of praise. They are usually lyrical rather than narrative. They can be rooted in relationships.  They can be rooted in grief. They can be written to something or about something. An Ode is an excellent way to hide behind a poem, inject humor into a heartbreaking situation, share, and heal yourself at the same time.

Yes, an Ode could be about blossoming cherry trees, and mockingbirds waking you up to the smell of morning coffee, but no offense, I don’t want to read that. I appreciate Odes grounded in sad subjects more. I think they take more skill, and they’re more interesting.

Would you want to read (or write) a poem about a breakup? Probably not. I already know how a breakup feels. I already know what it’s like to want to eat every container of ice cream in the store and never leave the house again.

But “Ode to Closet Space”? Heck yes, I want to read that! I want to write it. Dang…I get the whole closet now? And there are no dirty socks and underwear that missed the hamper? And I don’t have to pick them up and wash them? And fold those stupid identical socks into pairs?  What else is good about all my new closet space? More hangers? Yes!! And so we go on.

I don’t have to think about syllables, repetition, nothing! I can write an Ode, which allows me to write free verse the way I want, does not force the poem anywhere, and it’s still a form!!  And it might be trying something new.

For a moment, even for a moment, my life is not a Country Western song. I’m happy that I wrote a poem. And the reader is hopefully empathetic, and happy to read it.

Kevin Young
Poet Kevin Young has a book entitled “Dear Darkness”. This book contains the majority of his Odes. Some are:

Ode to My Scars, Ode to My Feet, Ode to My Father’s Feet, Ode to Chicken, Ode to Crawfish, Ode to Grits, Ode to Hot Sauce, Ode to Barbecue Sauce, and his beloved Ode to Pork.

According to Kevin, the Odes were written out of grief for his father who passed away in 2004. In celebrating the things his father loved, he celebrated him, and began to heal himself. What a powerful and wonderful tool an Ode can be.

Ode to Pork

I wouldn’t be here
without you. Without you
I’d be umpteen
pounds lighter & a lot
less alive. You stuck
round my ribs even
when I treated you like a dog
dirty, I dare not eat.
I know you’re the blues
because loving you
may kill me—but still you
rock me down slow
Art by JP Trostle

as hamhocks on the stove.
Anyway you come
fried, cued, burnt
to within one inch
of your life I love. Babe,
I revere your every
nickname—bacon, chitlin
cracklin, sin.
Some call you murder,
shame’s stepsister—
then dress you up
& declare you white
& healthy, but you always
come back, sauced, to me.
Adam himself gave up
a rib to see yours
piled pink beside him.
Your heaven is the only one
worth wanting—
you keep me all night
cursing your four—
letter name, the next
begging for you again.

            - Kevin Young

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. Love this, Tobi. As informative as it is entertaining .

  2. Thanks so much. I can't wait to read your "Ode to Giraffes" :-)


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