Rewrite and Polish the Offending Line

When you are as deep as I was in a traditional pantoum, you don't want a clunky line to scrap the entire effort. Fve known poets who have come within one word of completing a pantoum, only to abandon the effort because a line wouldn't serve two stanzas.

When that happens, throw out the entire line. Don't try to save it no matter how brilliant your images or extended your metaphors. Kill it, or it will kill your pantoum.

When you consider lines to replace it, focus again on ones that break well into phrases or employ homonymns or homophones. This will give you several options for new lines and transitions. Above all, resist the impulse to go with a line that simply salvages the pantoum. You want a slick line that propels the poem.

For instance, here's the first possible replacement line I conceived to make my pantoum work: "To keep a person from getting close." The meter was wrong, so I changed it to "To prevent a person from getting close." It didn't connect well with the repeating line — "If you're nothing, you have nothing to lose/To prevent. A person from getting close" — but, with a little polish, it suggested a real winner.

Look at the phrase "/I person from getting close" and consider how that can stand independently: A person's getting close. Now consider the possibilities of my new line: "To prevent a person's getting close." The meter was wrong again, but easy to fix: "To undermine a person's getting close."

At last, I could complete the pantoum:

Of needing love, remember? You have lines

To undermine a person's getting close:

You disappoint me. You show all the signs.

If you're nothing, you have nothing to lose,

To undermine. A person's getting close.

Every slur you heard is elegiac.

If you're nothing, you have nothing to lose.

Our lives are like pantoums. Those lines come back.

Presto! A pantoum! After I had composed it, I rewrote "Boomerang" into metered and freestyle versions. Compare the sound effects.

Here's the metered version:

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