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Old 03-02-2001, 04:53 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,831

A 'cento' is a poem comprised of lines from other poems, and this is the best I've ever seen. Surely no poem by a contemporary of mine more belongs on this board. Sam's No Word of Farewell, Selected Poems, was just published by Story Line Press; and all of us should read it.

Approaching a Significant Birthday, He Peruses the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

All human things are subject to decay.
Beauty is momentary in the mind.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
And somewhat of a sad perplexity.
Here take my picture, though I bid farewell;
In a dark time the eye begins to see

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall--
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet bird sang.
What but design of darkness to appall?
An aged man is but a paltry thing.

If I should die, think only this of me:
Crass casualty obstructs the sun and rain
When I have fears that I may cease to be,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain

And hear the spectral singing of the moon
And strictly meditate the thankless muse.
The world is too much with us, late and soon
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil.
Again he raised the jug up to the light:
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Downward to darkness on extended wings,
Break, break, break on thy cold gray stones, O Sea,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
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Old 03-02-2001, 01:33 PM
Michael Juster Michael Juster is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Belmont MA
Posts: 4,776

Perhaps my fondest memory of West Chester is hearing Sam read this at the first or second gathering. It's funny on paper, but hilarious to hear him read it with the hints of academic pretension in his voice.
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Old 03-02-2001, 01:42 PM
PrttyKtty PrttyKtty is offline
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Eugene, Oregon, USA
Posts: 393

Thanks for a great read! I had never heard of a cento, but this is wonderful!
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Old 03-02-2001, 09:28 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Claremont CA USA
Posts: 573

Just got the book the other day and have been
reading it with great pleasure. Not too many
poets around who are actually fun to read.
I like the cento a lot---maybe the best funny
cento I've ever read. (As for serious centos,
I still like my own Stevens patchwork.)
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Old 03-03-2001, 06:50 AM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland
Posts: 4,814

O.K. I'm sure I'm not to first to ask this nor hardly the last, but what's so great about anybody (it obviously doesn't have to be a poet) constructing a poem of lines taken from wellknown works?

It certainly doesn't call on the creative processes, apart from an eye for an apposite line, and seems more to bear witness to the fact that the cento maker possesses at least a decent anthology.

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Old 03-03-2001, 06:11 PM
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Kate Benedict Kate Benedict is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: New York, NY, USA
Posts: 2,192

A decent anthology or poetry shelf, and a brilliant ability to synthesize, syncronize. This was an exercise in cleverness, to be sure, but not a "mere" cleverness, a mind-boggling cleverness.

Anne Sexton said once that there is "only one poem" -- we are all writing one big poem. A cento pays tribute to that idea, don't you think?
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Old 03-04-2001, 01:15 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
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I think you have it just right, Kate. I doubt that Sam used an anthology to write this. The seamless syntax casts each of these great lines in an entirely new light, one in which they gain from the jarring proximity to their neighbors. And though the poem is mindbogglingly funny, it is also a 'crie de couer' by a young poet confronting the enormity of his predessors' achievement: "I do not think that they will sing to me."
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Old 03-04-2001, 03:40 AM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland
Posts: 4,814

The poem, no doubt, is what you say it is, I make the point that it is not that difficult to do.

For example, if the poem is rhymed meter, then pick a line in an anthology appropriate to the need, let's say for argument's sake that this line is iambic pentameter, immediately every poem that is not i.p. can be discarded. Now we can concentrate on rhymes. Having picked our suitable line our rhyme requirement is also determined. A quick glance will throw up a number of candidate lines. Jot them down and merely use those most appropriate.

This morning, subsequent to reading Tim's post, as an excercise in practicing what I preach, I got hold of Nortons
and voila!

Condemn me not I make so much ado,
the postman comes and I am still in bed,
this time next year I shall be sixty two....(not true!)
tie up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead.
About suffering they were never wrong,
where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
yet all fore-wearied be, for what so strong
when you are old and grey and full of sleep?
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
the poets are far rarer births than kings;
and more so, in obtaining our own end
Thou honor'st verse and verse must lend her wings.
Oh Christ Almighty! Stop this bleeding fight--
do not go gentle into that. Good night!

I'm not saying that this is perfect, or even good, but for half an hour thumbing through an anthology, I don't believe it's bad at all.

Given time, I could perfect this, or use any other lines culled in like manner to say practically anything I want.

Mr Gwynne's poem may indeed be mind-bogglingly funny as claimed, but mind-bogglingly clever? I think not.

However, that's but my opinion.


[This message has been edited by Jim Hayes (edited March 05, 2001).]
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Old 03-04-2001, 04:07 PM
Golias Golias is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Lewisburg, PA, USA
Posts: 1,428

Well, Masters, one and all, I must agree with Gentleman Jim from Kilkenny. To my way of reading and thinking his concoction of lines from assorted poems is funnier and syntactically much more of a piece than that of Mr. Gwynn is.

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Old 03-05-2001, 12:17 PM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland
Posts: 4,814

Thank you Golias. I compiled my piece from 14 works by fourteen different authors.

For those with a mind to read the lines in their original settings they can all be found in;
The Norton Anthology of Poetry,
Fourth Edition,
on pages 455, 1448, 1456, 565, 1367,
609, 160, 1085, 1465, 293,
375, 775, 1209 and 1465


[This message has been edited by Jim Hayes (edited March 05, 2001).]
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