NaPoWriMo, Day 25: A Cento (Which Doesn’t Mean it Has 100 Lines)

How Long the Years Grow

Into the dangerous world I leapt,
like strings of broken lyres.

Again, when have I ever not loved?

I summon you now,
the happy genius of my household,
from a kingdom that bullies, and hectors, and swears.

And within the pane-lit windows,
the ghosts swarm.

Skin remembers how long the years grow.
Let’s ask a poet with no way of knowing:

Did I have to be born?

With many, many thanks to the following poets:

William BlakeThomas HardyDerek WalcottMay Sarton, William Carlos Williams, Philip Freneau, Bill Knott, Rae Armantrout, Naomi Shihab Nye, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Mattathias (as translated by David Rosenberg).

OK, putting in the links took longer than writing the poem …

A cento is a poem made entirely of lines borrowed from other poems. For mine, I went to and navigated to their index of poems appropriate for various holidays. I grabbed a line from one poem for each holiday listed there. I did this mostly in order, except that I flipped Chanukah and Christmas because the line I found for Chanukah was an especially killer ending, and I just didn’t like the poem as much without the flip in the last two lines. I also made a few changes to punctuation and such, where needed for sense.

I had fun with this. Was it … cento-riffic? Maybe. Maybe it was.

Oh, and also, P.S.: I forgot to say thank you, thank you here to Vince Gotera for featuring one of my poems from a few days back, on his blog, The Man with the Blue Guitar. I was honored and thrilled, and you should visit him posthaste!


NaPoWriMo, Day 15: A Parody

The Pancayke

(after William Blake’s The Tyger)

Pancayke! Pancayke! Newly born
In the griddle of the morn,
What immortal hand and plate
Could prepare thee to meet thy fate?

In what distant bowl or dish
Did thy flour and eggs first squish?
With what spoon dare he to stir?
What the mixer dare to whirr?

And what slow and steady man
Could pour thee in the frying pan?
And when thy dough began to firm,
What bold spatula gave thee a turn?

What the flipper? What the fork?
And dost thou go well with pork?
Where’s the bacon? Or the links?
Did we eat them, quick as a wink?

When we all threw down our knives
And got up to resume our lives,
Did he smile our mess to clean?
Did he yell or make a big Scene?

Pancayke! Pancayke! Newly born
In the griddle of the morn,
What immortal hand and plate
Could prepare thee to meet thy fate?


NaPoWriMo Day 10: Borrow (or Steal) a First Line

With many, many thanks to complynn, who told us all about “Enter SHIFT” for returns within stanzas (and thereby stopped my growling).

Cousin Fergus

(after Who Goes With Fergus? by William Butler Yeats)

Who will go drive with Fergus now?
That’s what I’d like to know about it.

I could ask him, but he’s always
half in the bag, and the stench

knocks you back a ways. He lives
down at the end of that crooked

road, in a split-level he stole from
his aunt. He has filled it with his

leavings, the odd little dolls he
whittles, tries to give away to

children, whose sensible mothers
pull them closer, keep their hands

from reaching, reaching toward
Fergus, his dolls, his beseechings.

Who will go drive with Fergus now?
All he has left is a motor scooter,

and it can’t climb hills very well.
There are things he needs, and

I suppose I’ll drive him, though
his aunt was my own mother,

and every time I see that stolen
house, it splits my heart in two.


A Thank-You to Some of My Trail Guides

I have often said that I’ll know I’ve made it when I see my name in Poet’s Market. No, not in an interview or other feature, accompanied by a suitably poetic-looking headshot … in the actual listings, where the publications name a few poets whose work they have published recently. It would be maybe a little spooky to see my name there, but it would also be really, really thrilling.

I have a long history with Poet’s Market. I may have bought my first one while I was still in high school. I know I had at least one when I was in college. I would read through all the different listings and dream, and sometimes submit poems — and once or twice, I actually got something published.

Then came the long fallow period after college. When I wasn’t writing for a grade anymore, when no one particularly cared whether I wrote poetry or not, I found it very difficult to keep doing it. I threw my energies into other things, some more worthy than others. The career-marriage-family nexus I don’t regret at all, but if I had diverted some of my attention away from horrible/engrossing daytime TV or obsessive, but not so skillful crafting, who knows what great poems I could have written during that lull, which lasted more than a decade?

I know there were at least a couple of times during those years when I bought the latest Poet’s Market but didn’t use it. It felt good, anyway, just to have it around — as if I might need it again someday. Once my writing life was restarted in earnest, I knew just what I needed to get, and I continue to buy the new one when it comes out in the fall.

I highlight, cross out, star, and otherwise make a path through the listings — a path that becomes a rough plan for where I’ll submit in the coming year. I divert from the path as needed, and sometimes I scrap the plan completely and start another one. Lately, I have been putting little hearts, in highlighter, by the publications that have accepted my work. Yes, really.

On my many trips through Poet’s Market, there are certain poets whose names I encounter over and over, and whose names have become indicators for me. That is, if I see a certain name listed, I have a sense that the publication is looking for the kind of work that I enjoy — and that maybe it would be a good home for my poems, too.

Now that I’m having a measure of success, I sometimes discover that one or more of these indicator poets is in the same publication and same issue that I am. I love it when that happens. I don’t personally know any of these poets, but I feel as if I do, and I want to thank them for helping me find my way in:

Lyn Lifshin

Ruth Moon Kempher (Hey, look — Lyn Lifshin is there, too.)

B.Z. Niditch

Virgil Suarez

Please know that I’m not saying my own work is comparable to any of theirs. It’s just that nine times out of ten, when I see one of their names, it leads me to a publication that I am glad to know about and enjoy reading — whether or not it ultimately accepts any of my work.

Maybe someday, I’ll join my indicator poets in those Poet’s Market listings. Until then, it is always a pleasure to read their work, and a special thrill whenever our paths cross in the pages of a literary publication.