For a long time I wouldn’t have said I had a favorite poem. Earning an education in public school, I had few exposures to poetry and nothing as widely celebrated as National Poetry Month, which The Academy of American Poets created in 1996 when I was a sophomore in High School. I grew up not really knowing much poetry. Public school had us studying classic, mostly safe poets like Robert Frost and William Shakespeare, though we studied the latter more as literature than poetry. I remember liking Robert Frost and I still do, but in some ways I think you couldn’t get any more average. I wish we would have studied more diverse texts and poets like Charles Baudelaire, Charles Bernstein, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Charles Bukowski (just to stay in the ‘B’s and list them alphabetically, of course).
In honor of National Poetry Month (#NPM2017), I want to share my favorite poem. My absolute favorite poem in the world is Stuart Dischell’s “She Put on Her Lipstick in the Dark” which is in the form of a pantoum. From The Poetry Foundation‘s glossary a pantoum is:
A Malaysian verse form adapted by French poets and occasionally imitated in English. It comprises a series of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The second and fourth lines of the final stanza repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza. See A.E. Stallings’s “Another Lullaby for Insomniacs.”
It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. It also isn’t terribly easy to write, though I don’t find it as difficult a form as the dreaded sestina. Here is my favorite poem:
SHE PUT ON HER LIPSTICK IN THE DARK
I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once. It
was in the garden of a museum Where I saw
her touching the statues. She had brown hair
and an aquamarine scarf.
It was in the garden of the museum I told her I
was a thief disguised as a guard. She had
brown hair and an aquamarine scarf. She told
me she was a student from Grenoble.
I told her I was not a thief disguised as a guard.
We had coffee at the little commissary. She said
she had time till her train to Grenoble. We talked
about our supreme belief in art.
We had coffee at the little commissary
Then sat on a bench near the foundry. We
talked about our supreme belief in art. She
leaned her head upon my chest.
We kissed on a bench near the foundry. I
closed my eyes when no one was watching.
She leaned her head upon my chest. The
museum was closing. It was time to part.
I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once. I
never saw her again and she never saw me.
In a garden she touched the statues. She put
on her lipstick in the dark.
I close my eyes when no one is watching. She
had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf. The
museum was closing. It was time to part. I
never saw her again and she never saw me.
The Lead Faculty for the National University Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and my personal mentor, Professor Frank Montesonti, encourages MFA students to communicate with published poets. Why not? They’re human like the rest of us. They came from the same unpublished, unrecognized streets we did. And it’s so cool when they write back! I have written to five major poets and all, but one sent me a personal response. On Monday, July 11, 2016 I e-mailed Mr. Dischell expressing my love for his poem and humbly sharing with him a poem I wrote in response. “It’s Always Dark when I Put on My Lipstick” is not a pantoum and is written from the perspective of the woman. Mr. Dischell wrote me the very next day and graciously complimented my poem! It was funny because the day I wrote to him, he was a guest speaker at the American University in Paris and had been asked to read “She Put Her Lipstick on in the Dark.”
Other notable examples of the pantoum are Carolyn Kizer’s “Parent’s Pantoum,” John Ashberry’s “Pantoum,” Airea D. Matthews’ “Descent of the Composer,” Randall Mann’s “September Elegies,” Denise Duhamel’s “Lawless Pantoum,” Carolyn Kizer’s “Parent’s Pantoum,” and Marilyn Hacker’s “Iva’s Pantoum.” There are so many great examples out there, but Dischell’s is my all-time favorite.
Keep writing! (Maybe try a pantoum of your own?)
“Pantoum.” Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 April 2017.
Dischell, Stuart. “She Put on Her Lipstick in the Dark.” National Endowment for the Arts, 2009. Web. 12 April 2017.