13: Cento

From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources. – poets.org

You and I: A Cento

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet
You may tarry forever.
This debt we pay to human guile.

I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
That you and I are as real
As the flight of birds.

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it,
Black pearls of want inside the body
And all their myriad voices.

Your machinery is too much for me,
The lines of your face and the print of your hand
All things counter, original, spare, strange.

Sources: T. S. Eliot, Robert Herrick, Paul Laurence Dunbar, William Wordsworth, James Merrill, Archibald MacLeish, Sharon Olds, Joan Fleming, Emily Bronte, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Brasch, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

This was a fun one – a lot of reading around eclectic places and piecing bits together like a jigsaw. I started off by just reading around for anything that caught my eye, with no overall plan. After a while I decided to use “you” and “I” as a connecting thread, since so much poetry is built around this kind of direct address. With that in mind, I gathered a few more pieces and then strung together something rough which I filled out by specifically hunting for a few connecting lines that fit with what I already had.

I was pretty indiscriminate about where I took lines from, although I can see that restricting yourself to a specific group of poets or poems would be a great way to approach this. There are some limits in terms of keeping a reasonably consistent style and tone (if that’s something you want to do), which here meant working within a relatively modern Western tradition of works.

Also, if you don’t know Joan Fleming’s work already, check it out. She’s great.