For this week’s poetry prompt, I’m also going to discuss an interesting poetic form called the cento. A cento is a poem composed of lines from other poets’ poems. It’s similar to the “cut-up technique” made famous by William S. Burroughs and others. The main difference is that a cento uses only lines from other poets, whereas the cut-up technique uses lines from any and every where.
I want you to go through your favorite poems and piece together your very own cento. The lines do not need to be popular or well known–but you should know where and who you’re drawing from. The method that helped me was to find the lines and write them down first before trying to make something out of them. Later on, you can try this exercise on your own poems, especially ones where you might like a line or two but feel disappointed in the whole (I know I’ve written many that fit this description).
Anyway, here’s my effort for the week:
“And we let the fish go”
A bestiary catalogs these hips are
big hips: My mother is a fish.
In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see
the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked, because we could not stop
for Death, beside the white chickens.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
“I am not a painter; I am a poet;
and I eat men like air.” I have gone
out, a possessed witch, even as I speak,
for lack of love alone–sweet to tongue
and sound to eye–and that has made
all the difference. They tell me you
are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas
lamps luring the farm boys. We wear the mask
that grins and lies, “The blind always come
as such a surprise.” Let us go then,
you and I: We real cool. We rage,
rage against the dying of the light.
(As you can see, many great lines were referenced and turned into a new whole, fighting for a new meaning. Btw, 21 poets–including the title–were referenced: I wonder who can figure out the most.)