WRITING A CENTO
Writing is my passion, my craft, my life, my hobby, my career, and so on. It constantly supplies me with love, happiness, and overwhelming stress (do any of your loves and passions not stress you out?). The best part about writing is the challenging intensity that comes with constantly creating new art and life through words.
I’m a fiction writer, not a poet, and writing poetry has always been a rather difficult task for me. But I’ve always loved the competitive nature it calls forth in my writing, as well as the epiphanies it supplies and the satisfying outcomes, which come with completing a poem.
Writing free-form poetry is hard to conjure but easier to execute. However, writing with constraints or specific forms increase the level of difficulty for poetry writing.
Centos are poems that take writing from other works, manipulating the text into a new meaning or an entirely new piece of writing. This form evokes an even more intense challenge. My favourite way to write a cento is by clipping an article or a block of text from a magazine and finding a poem within that random piece of text.
With a pair of scissors, I cut each individual word out, putting it into a jar. Then, I pick the words and write them in the order I receive them.
Once I’ve collated the words in a new order, I find a way to fit the words into a poem. I do change tenses and add filler words where is needed. I also may not use every word from the block of text, and that's okay! This may seem simple enough, however, finding the order of words that works for your poem, as well as sculpting a meaning and an image from a random text is intensely difficult, especially keeping in mind poetic techniques such as alliteration, metaphor, description, etc. And then try adding in the constraint of not using the verb “to be”, the most overused verb in the English language.
For my most recent cento, I used my green, childhood scissors to cut up our monthly edition of J. McLaughlin. The issue I shredded is March 2021. I chose the first section of text, for the font is larger than most of the catalog’s articles. In addition, the theme of Spring appealed to me.
After slicing up the words, choosing them from the jar, and writing the outcome into my notebook, I moved on to the next part of my cento. In order to add a unique twist, I switch on the television for five seconds, then turn it off, recording – from memory – what I remember hearing. Memory fabricates and fills in the gaps unremembered. I put those sentences into my cento poem.
For this specific poem, NY-News 4 NY at 4:30pm was what was playing, and I heard: “People step on a path, I fear. I suspect it could be longer than that.”
Once I completed all the steps, I was able to put the poem together. Pasting it word for word. The outcome was fluffy and not as poetic as I would’ve liked. Figuring out what was missing was the tough part. Finally, I realised that it was missing my own voice and words, so I added a haiku at the end of the poem to make the poem's voice darker and its meaning clearer than it was before. The combination of the cento (written in prose form) and the haiku equates to a HAIBUN.
This was my final product:
The Fall of Springtime
People step on a path, I fear, in a sure sign of a joyful season called Spring—sunny blues, yellow tulips, and other lovely gardens. My song of collected peonies and other blooms fill mint communities, popping up in flower shops. Lighthearted chips of my happy line, albeit a cautious heart, must-have pink skies. But I suspect it could be longer than that, for when Spring smiles all over … I still feel welcome.
I flurry as cream
droplets kissing eyelashes.
In winter, I kill.