Posted by: Viola | July 26, 2014

Writing my first cento poem

This week, through the open poetry course at the University of Iowa, we learned about the pleasure of writing poetry. I very much enjoyed this week’s lesson. Last week, the lesson was also engaging and fun, and we were assigned the task to write a collage poem called a cento. A cento is a poem built from the lines of other poems, or works written by others. It’s a quilt or patchwork of borrowed lines. So it’s an opportunity to draw directly from the works of others and create something interesting and unexpected, revealing something in their works that even they may not have ever anticipated. Credit must be given to the authors of the lines, of course. Well, I finally got around to the assignment, procrastinating because that’s what I do when I have to deal with something new and a cento is very new for me, having never done one before. But once I got started, I found myself unable to stop. I wrote about a third of it during the day on Tuesday and then stayed up very late Wednesday night to finish it. I think I was up until 3 am. But once it was done, wow! What a relief and a joy. I had done it! Yay! I should add that a cento is meant to be 100 lines long, so it’s no small feat. I made my cento based on the poems of an American poet names Rae Armantrout. I love her poems because they are spacious and relatively short, so it was not too difficult to read through them and pick out lines from each poem. It was a great deal of simultaneous writing and reading, and it felt like intense multitasking. I made myself pick out lines in not too structured of a manner, just seeing what lines kind of fit together but not necessarily perfectly. My cento resulted into something rather odd, strange-sounding, sometimes nonsensical but with some subtle and mysterious logic to it. It even turned into something dark and dangerous, cruel in some places, cold and callous, then sensual in some places, then indifferent, then full of deep questioning and even some insight through odd and unusual imagery. It was a journey of sorts, writing the cento, and a journey through quite a few poems by another poet, through putting down the 100 lines I needed, counting them, making them match somewhat. In all the decision-making, the seemingly endless selecting of lines, I realized that poetry is full of choice. Full of opportunity. Full of decisions. It’s empowering but it’s also responsibility, work, focus, exploration, anticipation–exhausting and energizing, at the same time. I look forward to doing another cento soon. But for now, I need a little rest. Whew! ❤


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