The pantoum project began in 2013, shortly after the terrible events that occurred on Patriot’s Day in Boston.
It was one of those “decisive” spring days in Maine that knocked winter down a peg, and in the sun glowing over the puddles of melted snow there seemed to be little doubt of it coming back that season. I had just taught a Creative Writing class at UNE and was driving home in a silence with the window down, letting the air beat at my jaws like a grateful dog.
When I got home, my partner and I started taking about the Boston Marathon. She’s a distance runner and this topic is right in her wheelhouse. By contrast, I’m decidedly not a runner, however, I’ve attended many of her races over the years, and I appreciate running culture. I love the faces of the runners crossing the finish line, the new people they become as they come to the end of their run. I imagine each runner molting into something new as they cross the threshold, having endured 26 miles and change. Of course, it wasn’t those faces of release and rebirth that day; what followed was a flood of horrific images that filled the screen of every electronic device around.
Although the form of the pantoum trades on repetition, I’ll omit a full rebroadcast or reheating of my thoughts from that day–if you’re interested though, please check out the inspired work my Creative Writing students composed in the aftermath of the bombings by going here. My students are far more eloquent and thoughtful than I could ever be on this topic. Instead, I’d rather explain where this project has lead. What started out as an in-class writing assignment to give body to the concerns, anxieties, and grief my students and I were feeling after the bombings, took on another shape in the ensuing months that followed.
There is a growing community of writers at the University of New England, and in response to that growth, I see a real value in being able to have a kind of central gallery where each new group of students can look back on the work of their preceding classmates. The pantoumn, then, feels like the perfect vessel to me–its form always repeating, but also creating a new and interesting meaning out of that repetition through the arrangement of newly pressed-together lines and the new context these arrangements create. In this way, the very nature of the pantoum makes the old new again. I suppose that is really at the core of this project; I want there to be a kind of renewing gallery of finish lines that students can push their poems across, but also be able to cast back and see those that have come before them.
As for the parameters of the poems, each semester the topic of the pantoums takes on a specific theme, but that’s really the limit of the assignment. The theme for fall 2013 was DOUBT, which felt broad enough for my students to create work without getting too gimmicky. This also felt like an emotionally honest place to begin this new project of assembling student work, particularly as its origins lie in the darkness of last Patriot’s Day. The themes of future class pantoums will likely take their cue from symposiums in the Humanities at UNE.
In the spirit of art overpowering fear and doubt, and in the spirit of filling the screens of electronic devices with poetry instead of carnage, without further delay, I humbly and proudly present the beginning of Pantoum Project.
February 1, 2014