Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Rocco de Giacomo writes

This Land Like A Mirror Turns You Inward

                                                   a cento for half-sleep

Unsignificantly off the coast, there was a thing that is
like a branch, part of a tree. Yet in this room, this moment now
I am again a breathless swimmer in that cold green element.
In the nightmare of the dark I wake to sleep
and take my waking slow, somnolent through landscapes
and trees, the grasshoppers crackle and crumble the summer.
How can one teacher keep the water out, his body’s weight;
this quiet persistent rain.

Your mouth is moving over my face.
A few more breaths and it will reflect nothing at all.

Acknowledgements: Gwendolyn Macewen, William Carlos Williams, 
Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Parker, Irving Layton, W.H. Auden, Theodore Roethke, PK Page, Al Purdy, Robert Creely, Fluer Adcock, and Sylvia Plath


  1. A cento (from the Latin for "patchwork") ls a poem composed of odd fragments. Rocco tells you in his acknowledgements whom he stole the fragments from, but the resultant poem is his alone. A cento, therefore, may be considered "legitimate plagiarism."
    The earliest known cento was patched together in the late 2nd/early 3rd century by Hosidius Geta , who composed a 462-verse MEDEA from fragments of Virgil. His spoken parts were all in hexameters and his choral parts were all half-hexameters.. A bit later Ausonius established the rules for cento-making: the pieces may all come from the same poet or from several poets; the verses may be taken in their entirety or divided in half but if divided each half must be linked to another half taken elsewhere; no two adjacent verses should be used.

  2. A modern example is :The Dong With a Luminous Nose" by John Ashbery:

    Within a windowed niche of that high hall
    I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
    I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks
    From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night.
    Come, Shepherd, and again renew the quest.
    And birds sit brooding in the snow.

    Continuous as the stars that shine,
    When all men were asleep the snow came flying
    Near where the dirty Thames does flow
    Through caverns measureless to man,
    Where thou shalt see the red-gilled fishes leap
    And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws
    Where the remote Bermudas ride.

    Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me:
    This is the cock that crowed in the morn.
    Who’ll be the parson?
    Beppo! That beard of yours becomes you not!
    A gentle answer did the old Man make:
    Farewell, ungrateful traitor,
    Bright as a seedsman’s packet
    Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles.

    Obscurest night involved the sky
    And brickdust Moll had screamed through half a street:
    “Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been,
    Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    Every night and alle,
    The happy highways where I went
    To the hills of Chankly Bore!”

    Where are you going to, my pretty maid?
    These lovers fled away into the storm
    And it’s O dear, what can the matter be?
    For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple bells they say:
    Lay your sleeping head, my love,
    On the wide level of the mountain’s head,
    Thoughtless as monarch oaks, that shade the plain,
    In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood.
    A ship is floating in the harbour now,
    Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!


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