Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Cento for a Sunday

When I was in college, I took a Shakespeare class where we had to do a group project.  For our group’s project, one of my fellow students suggested that we put on a short skit, talking about the plays, but using the Bard’s own words.  We carefully culled bits and pieces of dialogue from the plays, put it in the mouths of our characters, and, by putting exisitng things into new context, we created new meaning.  I was fascinated by this process and have occasionally found myself doing it for other occasions.  One of my best friends asked me to do a reading at his wedding, of anything I liked, and I cobbled together several different quotes on love and fashioned a complete speech out of it.  It was generally well-received.

I’ve also tried my hand at creating poems like this.  It turns out that poetry created thus actually has a name: it’s a cento.  I’ve done a few over the years (despite the fact that poetry isn’t truly my forté), but none of them were particularly good.  Today, I give you a new cento that I “composed,” which I think is better than my previous efforts, although perhaps still not great.  The lines (or in some cases half-lines) here are mostly quotes from other poems, books, songs, or movies, although some are old things other people have recycled before me.  Most are quotes that appealed to me and ended up in my quote file, but a few I had to hunt down specifically to fit parts of the “narrative.”  All I personally added were a few connecting words here and there, and the first half of the title, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything (contrast with the second half, which is rather deliberately chosen not only to offset the first half euphoniously, but for its meaning in its own source).

I thought of listing all the sources here, but I’ve decided against it, mostly because it’s more fun to let you discover them on your own.  I’m pretty sure that judicious Googling will turn them all up, so I don’t worry that the original authors will fail to be attributed.

Consider this a first draft and be kind to it.  It’s new, and doesn’t much know what it’s saying yet.

Cobblestone Fray, Cottleston Pie

Once upon a time, when we all lived in the woods,
on a dark and stormy night,
all of the animals are capably murderous—
still, you may get there by candle-light.

You got devils living in that head,
watching the whites of your eyes turn red
by the pricking of my thumbs.
Where’er we tread ‘tis haunted holy ground,
like someone trying not to make a sound.
At sunrise, there is the sound of drums ...

It’s all sex and death as far as I can tell,
drinking the blood-red wine.
Fear is the mind-killer; blood is compulsory.
And I’ve made an enemy of time.

No less liquid than their shadows, speaking with the speech of men,
Satan must be our cousin, and does his crossword with a pen.
What noisy cats are we,
with the perils of being in 3-D,
and why the sea is boiling hot?  He’s won a lot of friends ...

There’s no such thing as the real world, but
there’s a hell of a good universe next door.
Little things are infinitely the most important.
Respite and nepenthe: to die, to sleep no more.

We’re all alive for a reason.
People need good lies.
Thou wast not born for death, but
when you stop dreaming, it’s time to die.

I recommend pleasant, but we’re all mad here.
I am the king of the cats!
Dance like nobody’s watching,
cry, ain’t no shame in it,
and that is the end of that.

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