Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 013

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.)

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60 thoughts on “Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 013

  1. DonnaG

    Sgt Pepper’s Wax Funeral

    I’ve not told him I’ve left
    him to find you

    beeswax fingers

    the heat from my hands
    bends your wrists backward

    if I can get this collar undone –

    into my knapsack with you, Paul’s wax head

    just so you know I’m not one of those
    fucked-up types
    I look just like Jane Asher
    on her way to India with you

    sway back and forth
    my hands unzipping you
    take off the suit jacket
    let you go

    it’s just you and me now baby

    you’ll burn for me

    (this one’s pure Kimmy Beach … another fabulous Canadian poet)

  2. DonnaG

    The Reason I Write

    When you are torn
    Who will choose you
    In order to edit your secrets

    Who will finally say
    you are perfect

    I heard of a man
    undisturbed by the soft hand

    Never mention it to your wife

    He pulled a flower
    He thought of islands
    And read what men have written

    Who will finally say
    First thing tomorrow morning

    that he failed

    and that I failed

    (I wrote this one some time ago … channeling Leonard Cohen, I believe)

  3. Jolanta Laurinaitis


    White cherry petals fall like snowflakes
    The scent like a light powdered kiss
    Hummmmmming, swinging my legs and streaching my toes
    I’m sifting the ocean for my peace of mind
    Into waves of summer yawns

    My memory peopled with silhouettes
    And delicacy swung between horizon
    Lost with the memory of a thousand ships
    The wife of peter-peter I play and dance in the sun

    The shores of pain have sudden, swift, uneasy shallows
    I stand my mind in pendulum swing
    Enraputred, I follow the intricate paths
    Imperceptible silence
    A vampire at the neck

    The delicate mechanism reacts
    Pleasant narcotic sublimating thoughts with pain
    Starshadow makes them mad
    Set to hack and hew complacency

    The cloud? It seeks the butterfly
    Which, wings folded, lies on the cold ground
    Come, take my soul, if that is what you want, if this is, you dare

    But something more secret
    Perhaps I was condemned to be happy
    Yet I too trod the well worn track of life
    Without a backward glance for those behind

    Poets and Poems used:
    Mercia Allen – Trauma; Margaret Allison – Regret; Pamela Cocalbola Brown – Paranoia; Joanne Burns – Transformer; Candance Cambourne – Prisoner; Angela Catterns – Bus; Peggy Clarke – Untitled; Janet Collins – Untitled; Lynmore Dover – Untitled; Lindsay Dyson – When the Children Leave; Anne Elder – At Ballindean; Debbie Penny – Pumpkin; Pixie O’Harris – Helen; Kay Ogg – Untitled; Audrey Longbottom – Augury; Margaret Kilpatrick – Cobwebs; Shinikichi Takahashi – Horse; The Cloud and the Butterfly; Pablo Neruda – October Fullness; Ode to the Smell of Firewood.

  4. Shannon Rayne

    I do this technique all the time!
    It is one of my favorite approaches to writing poetry.

    I have always wondered what the etiquette is on publishing a poem like this.

    Do we need to credit authors? How many words is too many when ‘borrowing’ anothers line?

  5. Rosemary Nissen-Wade

    Ooh, I loved the Canadian lines too! Yes, I also bet you have many more than 200. I knew a few of the names.

    I always think our wonderful Aussie poets are too little known in the rest of the world, so couldn’t waste such an opportunity. 🙂

    And Emily, what a sweet idea to use lines by some of us!

  6. Carol A Stephen

    THANKS, Sharon, hope you got your breath back by now.
    I betcha Canada has waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy more than 200 poets…I think there are that many here in Ottawa alone, but I do remember Bliss Carman from school, lo those many years ago…
    of course, not all are well-known 🙂

    Rosemary, loved your all-Australia cento!

    I really enjoyed this exercise, and will try it again when my monthend work is done. Taking a week off to do nothing except poetry.

  7. LKHarris-Kolp

    Sorry it took me so long to go back and find the poets I cited, It’s been a lesson to me (I should have taken the extra time when I was writing down the lines, to put the poet with it).

    Here they are: W. H. Auden, Francis Willialm Bourdillon, Thomas Carew, Andrew Marvell, Katherine Philips, William Butler Yeats and anonymous. These poems all came from a collection of "Love Poems," by David Stanford Burr.

    Laurie K.

  8. S.E. Ingraham

    What a great idea Rosemary! I confess, I thought Canada only had about two dozen poets – colour my face crimson to discover we have close to 200 – of course that inspired me to try another cento.

    Accept the Shadows

    Caught in common places
    What madness is it that hurls me
    Wakes the lonely echoes round
    From the ancient heart of the deep
    Shimmers in the pale sky
    Using the wind, pretends to catch fire

    Though my mind knows
    The world is made forever
    Dear lines that map the nation
    Or so you suspected, alone in your house
    The road, like poem progresses
    Slammed into a universe of spiralled pearl

    Something is eating away at me
    An endless song about going down
    Like a magnet of blood sealed from sun
    To rest on my dark pools its breathless enveloping
    Your fair innocence to my guilt

    Lay down the shape about someone’s insides
    I suspect there’s a secret society, the opalescent model
    Judiciously brightening skies, helping losers to sail away
    Through particular landscapes, beat to hell
    The scrabble of minute claws, they broke on the palate
    Where we tried to live as the splendid wolf
    Supped the sacrament of death, and we love it

    By my own embers, so I am aware of it only
    Over sand I move silently, spared pain and unnecessary grief
    Dawn winds whisper between the hedges and the town
    Thick-perfumed and luxurious
    Immortal beauty in her breathless flight
    I told her rather cruelly, dangling from the swing
    Just to rest and forget, slumber with lure of an out-lived mirth

    The collective dream slept into knowledge
    The close watching of abrupt birth
    How brief their day beneath our five year moon
    This is a cold country and there is nothing here
    The lessons of pain; a code we have not learned to decipher
    Spin towards the horizon using the wind to set course

    A cradle of lines dreamed in fear,
    drooped in prosperous curves
    I pray the world believe me,
    life is caught inside our cheated hearts
    How long was he standing there,
    all thunder-winged, trying to be brave
    Cradled is he, half-naked and grimed;
    our little sphere is crying for her father
    That raw desire was a wound of might,
    the kind who wore a bruised suit
    Torn jagged open, a relationship
    with light is necessary

    We miss the messages written in places
    Necessary to reserve a secret vice
    When I am dead, the pint-sized coffin
    Shall fly over me, the miniature jaws open
    The shout of triumph in their throat
    It follows rules of even rows,
    Hand of faith upon my fears
    Bear with me, bear with me
    Give my emotions an animal’s name
    Tuck it all up, I’ve done their desire
    To symmetry and rhyme, these fleet halcyon days
    Keep our steps in balance, comfort cloak us.


    The Canadian Poets cited:

    Bliss Carmen: Earth Voices, A Mountain Gateway, Garden Shadows, Tent of Noon
    Charles G.D.Roberts: Cambrai and Marne
    Isabella Valancy Crawford: Songs for Soldiers
    Margaret Atwood: In the Secular Night
    Earle Birney: My Love is Young
    Leonard Cohen: I Left A Woman Waiting
    Susan Musgrave: Things That Keep and Do Not Change, The Moment, The Laughter in the Kitchen
    Shirley A. Serviss: Learning to Read
    L.M.Montgomery: A Request
    Susanna Moodie: The Dying Hunter to his Dog
    Marjorie Pickthall: Marching Men, The Lamp of Poor Souls
    Robert W. Service: The Song of the Wage-Slave
    *Candas Jane Dorsey:tear, right this way, Visibility, Right This Way, chain reaction, you among the orchids, till you come face to face and recognize you, celestial events
    Alice Major: Symmetries of dilation, The moon of magpies quarrelling
    Gwendolyn MacEwen:Memoirs of a Mad Cook
    P.K.Page: Your Hand Once…
    Al Purdy: Separation
    F.R.Scott: North Stream
    A.J.M.Smith: For Healing
    Phyllis Webb: Eschatology of Spring
    Ralph Gustafson: The Trail Under Mount Michael
    Irving Layton: I Would For Your Sake Be Gentle
    John Newlove: That’s the Way Everything Is
    Alden Nowlan: For Claudine Because I Love Her
    Michael Ondaatje: Bearhug

    *should probably mention, I had the pleasure of learning under Candas Jane Dorsey who is both a formidable novelist and poet;one of Canada’s unsung heroes


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