Monday, August 18, 2008

Cento Contest

All right, this is it: the next contest. I hope more people submit to this one. It's a little difficult, but be brave: once you manage to write one at all, it's likely to sound really good. I know mine did.

A cento is a poem made entirely of lines from other poems. The name comes from the Latin word meaning a cloak made out of patches. The cento differs from found poetry in that every line is taken from another poem, instead of just any borrowed material.

Virgilian centos were popular in the Middle Ages, when poets would use lines from Virgil to write about religious themes. You can follow this tradition, if you like, by limiting yourself to a single poet (e.g. a Shakespearean cento) or maybe some other group of poems--only Romantic poems, or only poems posted on this blog (and that's a lot!). Or just do any poem, which will of course give you more freedom.

In the modern age, there is a hearkening-back to this poetic form in the allusion-rich poetry of Eliot and Pound. The Waste Land is filled with lines of other poems, sometimes slightly changed and sometimes borrowed wholesale. I find it gives a serious, eternal tone to the poetry. That's what got me trying to write centos, with some success.

The rules are as follows:

1. Don't use chunks bigger than two lines long. This ought to be your own poem. The original rules for a Virgilian cento allowed for no more than one line at a time, so I'm being a little generous.

2. Regular meter is not necessary, and neither is rhyme, but you might try for these and see what happens. A rhyme now and then can be pretty neat, and if you borrow lines that are all iambic pentameter, for example, you'll automatically have meter.

3. You can change the tense of verbs, or the person of pronouns, but don't make any large changes to the lines of poetry you borrow.

4. It can be any length. Preferably not an epic, though--I do have to read all these!

Try not to be too intimidated by the new form, but let yourself play with it. Pick a subject, find lines of poetry that suggest that subject, and arrange them different ways until it sounds right. And don't be afraid to submit something that isn't perfect. No poem is, and it's better to put yourself out there and try.

I'll leave my own cento in the comment box, when I've polished it a little. Leave your own submissions there. You can also email them to enchiridion1 at yahoo dot com.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And the winner is ...

A Confidence
by Meredith

Because of you my eyes are always wet -
I never loved so vehemently before.
You perfect chevalier with hair of jet,
Just thinking of you fells me to the floor!
I know you're sweet and smart and witty for
I read you daily on the Internet.
And so I pine upon this Hither Shore:
How can I love you when we've never met?

A date, they say, could all my dreams upset -
You might find talking to me quite a chore.
Or you could light a sordid cigarette,
Or accidentally walk into a door.
I might turn fickle like Queen Eleanor,
Offered a corner-office or a coronet.
But saving humiliations so galore -
How can I love you when we've never met?

I'll have to reinvent the alphabet
To write the world how madly I adore,
Or cry it from a heathen minaret,
Or cast a spell on Glastonbury Tor.
Between us there's a thousand miles and more,
And colloquies too filmy to forget.
Yet here's my heart. It's beautiful and poor.
How can I love you when we've never met?

Prince of the heart's desire (in Grecian lore)
Whom Psyche loved unseen without regret,
Grant me some day to see him, I implore;
How can I love him when we've never met?

* * *

I received a number of submissions, but this one really did carry it away in terms of clever turns of phrase as well as earnestness. The idea--loving someone from afar--is an old one, with the Internet adding a new twist. There are a few plays on this blend of old and new: "a corner-office or a coronet," for example. And, as Meredith loves to do, there's plenty of allusion, which I tend to like.

Yes, it's a good poem. But all the poems I received were so good I feel this contest a job well done. Good poems were written--that was my goal. In fact, it's such a success I think I'll try another contest very soon . . . but it'll be something a little different. Even the veteran poets might have a hard time with it, but amateurs might get a leg up with it. I certainly found this form a big help in getting me to write. But it'll be a surprise--I'll announce it next time!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

La Figlia Che Piange

by T. S. Eliot

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body is has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we should both understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.