My deep love of poetry arises, in part, out of poetry’s disposition for “call-and-response,” as I have always subscribed to the exhilaration of influence as opposed to “the anxiety of influence.” Because of my interest in dialogic forms, I found my way to the cento form, as centos seem to be an organic extension of this “call-and-response” philosophy in that the recombinant nature of the cento allows for homage and salutation to influences while beginning the conversation anew. One of the lines from a poem in Wolf Centos, “I have lost my being in so many beings,” is a great summation of the whole cento approach and to my path to poetry in general.
Because of my interest in found material, after I finished Wolf Centos, I turned to a book-length series of multi-voiced sonnets written with San Francisco poet Dean Rader. We frankensteined these sonnets by cutting lines from other poet’s sonnets, and then grafting our own sonnets onto the originating skein of flesh. When we first decided that Frankenstein would be the conceptual spine of the book—the suturing together of other’s flesh/words with our own—we addressed how much should be appropriated and how much should be our own. We ended up being minimally cannibalistic, deciding only to use single lines from other people’s sonnets to employ as the first line. These first lines also serve as the title of each poem. Though our working manuscript title was Frankenstein Sonnets, the final title for the book is Suture, and it will be forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in April 2017. As an extension of our collaborative process, Dean and I will also be giving a presentation on collaboration titled “The New DJ’s: Mixing and Remixing the Poem” at the 2016 AWP Conference in Los Angeles.
These collaborations, both with the dead and with the living, help me to continue to be excited about writing, as they allow for new modalities of thinking about, and writing, poetry. I especially appreciate the surprise detours that occur in the collaborative process that while challenging, are also great fun—the pleasure found in figuring out a difficult puzzle.
The Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira created the cento “Anthology” (see below) using lines from his own poems, instead of employing the traditional method of cento-construction (in which you build a poem entirely out of lines from other people’s poems). Following his example, write a cento that is a self-portrait, or anthology of your life, utilizing lines and fragments from your own work.
Or, alternatively, create a “self-portrait” cento using lines and fragments from
- other people’s poems (the traditional method), or
- song lyrics, or
- prose (fiction and/or nonfiction)
*To see the basic stipulations for writing a traditional cento, see http://myenchiridion.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html
Anthology by Manuel Bandeira
Is not worth the trouble and grief of being lived.
Bodies understand each other, but souls, no.
The only thing to do is to play an Argentine tango.
I’m going away to Pasárgada!
I am not happy here.
I want to forget it all:
— The grief of being a man . . .
This infinite and vain anxiety
To possess what possesses me.
I want to rest
Thinking humbly about life and women I loved . . .
About all the life that could have been and wasn’t.
I want to rest.
To die, body and soul.
(Every morning the airport across the way gives me lessons
When the Undesired-of-all arrives,
She will find the field plowed, the house clean,
The table set,
With everything in its place.
Translated by Jean R. Longland
Simone Muench is the author of six full-length books including Lampblack & Ash (Sarabande, 2005), Orange Crush (Sarabande, 2010) and Wolf Centos (Sarabande, 2014). Her chapbook Trace received the Black River Award (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). She is a recipient of a 2013 NEA fellowship and The 2014 Meier Foundation for the Arts Achievement Award. She serves as faculty advisor for Jet Fuel Review, and has a forthcoming collaborative book of sonnets, written with Dean Rader, titled Suture (Black Lawrence Press, 2017).