Friday, September 07, 2018

Writing Centos With My Poetry Sisters

The challenge this month, set by Sara, was to write a cento. Here are the directions we received.
I pick a line of poetry from a poet outside our culture (whatever that means!).  Then to diversify, we each build our centos by choosing a different word from that line. That way, we will have varied poems, but each poem will be unified by its own unique word. 
Say I choose this from the poet Agha Shahid Ali:
     I see Argentina and Paraguay
     under a curfew of glass, their colors
     breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay 
Then each of us could pick a word from it:  "Argentina" or "Paraguay" (hard!) or "curfew" or "glass" or "colors" or "breaking" or even "see" or "under"  and collage a poem from there. Every subsequent line has to be taken from a different poem and has to have your chosen word somewhere in it, long or short.  Feel free to use as many poems and cultures as you like.  
This has been my favorite challenge so far this year. I collected more than 12 pages of poetry lines containing the word under. I cut the lines apart and moved them around, a lot like magnetic poetry. Here's the first poem I wrote. You can find the source of the lines (and title) below the poem.

words under pressure bleed original sense1

answer, if you hear the words under the words2
under the edge of february3
under the holsteins’ steaming noses4
days below days like a river running under the stars5

remember the sky that you were born under6
under eclipse and the day blotted out7
under a curfew of glass8
crying under the alder9

without trousers and without underpants10
a stranger is peeing ecstatic under the moon11
under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs12

under awnings, under stars13
have sex under the giant philodendron14
and in the ooze under15
no gods remember it, no understanding16

I want to be whole again, so I begin living truthfully under17
every night, under the millions of stars18
heart expanding under the ice19
  1. words under pressure bleed original sense by George Quasha
  2. The Words Under the Words by Naomi Shihab Nye
  3. Under the Edge of February by Jayne Cortez
  4. A Family History by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
  5. The Forgotten Madmen of Ménilmontant by Frank Stanford
  6. Remember by Joy Harjo
  7. The Tower by W. B. Yeats
  8. I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror by Agha Shahid Ali
  9. What the Horses See at Night by Robin Robertson
  10. Lives of the Dead: An Epic: Chapter One by Hanoch Levin, translated by Ata Hadari
  11. Under a Full Moon at Midnight by Merrill Leffler
  12. Chicago by Carl Sandburg
  13. The Shooting of John Dillinger Outside the Biograph Theater, July 22, 1934 by David Wagoner
  14. Dispatches from Devereux Slough by Mark Jarman
  15. Canto XIV by Ezra Pound
  16. Twilights, V by Conrad Aiken
  17. Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances by Elizabeth A.I. Powell
  18. Ruins Under the Stars by Galway Kinnell
  19. Phases by Michael Redhill
I had so much fun writing the first poem that I decided to try a second. I like this one even better than the first. And yes, my dreams are this weird.

Where Dreams Take Me After Reading at Bedtime

our little apartment under the freeway overpass1
under chenille bedspreads2
watching the garden winter under the moon3

under the hooves of a horse4
trampled underfoot5
tossed, knotted and torn under6

by the sea under the yellow and sagging moon7
a beaked ship under sail8
under the arching heavens9

circling a railway underpass10
where badgers undermine the tarred road11
on the underside of the world12

under the gas lamps luring the farm boys13
to have sex under the giant philodendron14
in worn underpants and plastic sandals15

playing in the dirt under a porch16
crawling under the stairs17
under the brown fog of a winter noon18

under the triumphal arch19
the hard sidewalk under my shoes20
a heap of ruins trodden underfoot21

in your “office” under the lean-to22
under the racket of this day’s distractions23
reading the Greeks under a blanket of blue24

screaming under the stairways25
under Grand Central’s tattered vault26
under a curfew of glass27

wherever the human heart beats with terrible throes under its ribs28
under the bedroom floor29
  1. At the Grave of My Guardian Angel: St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans by Larry Levis
  2. Falling by James Dickey
  3. Phases by Michael Redhill
  4. The Forgotten Madmen of Ménilmontant by Frank Stanford
  5. Your Shakespeare by Marvin Bell
  6. Enter the Void by Juan Felipe Herrera
  7. Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking by Walt Whitman
  8. The Swan by John Gould Fletcher
  9. When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d by Walt Whitman
  10. How to Draw a Perfect Circle by Terrance Hayes
  11. Over the Dead Flatness of the Fens by William Logan
  12.  [I pinch myself hard on the inner arm] by Susan Hampton
  13. Chicago by Carl Sandburg
  14. Dispatches from Devereux Slough by Mark Jarman
  15. Painted Eyes by Henri Cole
  16. The Great Migration by Minnie Bruce Pratt
  17. The Shark’s Parlor by James Dickey
  18. The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
  19. The Cafe Underground by John Malcolm Brinnin
  20. CXIV by Sonnet L’Abeé 
  21. 1851: A Message to Denmark Hill by Richard Howard
  22. Vertumnal by Stephen Yenser
  23. Morning Voices by Ed Falco
  24. Reading the Greeks Under a Blanket of Blue by William Coleman
  25. Howl, Parts I & II by Allen Ginsberg
  26. Broadway by Mark Doty
  27. I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror by Agha Shahid Ali 
  28. Song of Myself (1892 version) by Walt Whitman
  29. The Shark’s Parlor by James Dickey
Poems ©Tricia Stohr-Hunt, 2018. All rights reserved.

You can read the pieces written by my poetry sisters at the links below. Life has called some sisters away this month, but they'll be back.
I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link. Happy poetry Friday friends!


  1. Oh, wow! You did another one! I'm so happy you loved this challenge. It's both concrete---use THESE lines---and vague---BUT do with them what you will. You did a magnificent job of bumping lines together in a way that gives them new meaning. The dreamlike quality of your centos is mesmerizing, and they also make me want to dive back into the original poems, too. Brava.

    1. Thanks, Sara. I need to link to those poems for everyone. Some of them are incredible.

  2. You know what's funny, Tricia? My absolute favorite parts are your ending stanzas in both poems. You did such an incredible job bringing together so many sensory images in both poems, putting me smack dab in the middle of our earthy earth and the lives being led upon it. And then you bring it to an end with such a moment (both poems). And the second made me want to go read Poe :>) Wonderful stuff, Tricia!

    1. Laura, I was thinking the same thing about the last stanzas of Tricia's poems. These poems have raw emotion seeping through them. Great job, Tricia. I have to compliment the Poetry Sisters

    2. I learned at a young age not to read Poe before bedtime. I had nightmares for weeks. When I came across the line "under the bedroom floor," I knew I needed to write about weird dreams. Fortunately, the lines I chose were accomodating.

  3. OH MY GOSH! Two! I really love the second one as well. Although -- the philodendron is STILL making me laugh. Do you know I had to look up a picture of a giant one to see if it seemed like a likely, um, location? THE ANSWER IS STILL NO. So, SO much no. The worn underpants and plastic sandals just don't help...

    1. Funny, I actually looked for photos too! The tropical rainforest plant might work, and in a dream sequence of seducing boys under street lights, that might actually work.
      I don't know why I was so fixated on this line. I think it was Sara's challenge to use the word underpants. Everything just grew from there!

  4. Love what you did here, Tricia - an amazing job of pulling these lines together and making something not only cohesive but emotionally rewarding. And so full of beautiful imagery! I told Laura I'm not sure I'd want to tackle a cento, but I just might someday...

    1. If you've written a book spine poem, you've written a cento.
      I've never written one focused around a word. Usually, it's just other lines of poetry cobbled together.
      I'm sure you'd come up with something brilliant!

  5. Tricia, I left my comment under Laura's. These poems make me sigh and want to read all of the sisters' poems again.

    1. Thanks, Carol. I had so much fun hunting for lines and then rearranging them.

  6. I was not familiar with the cento form before reading the poems from this month's challenge. I'm impressed with both of yours. I may have to try one myself.