Requiem for the Mother of Exiles by David P. Wilkins

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
is sinking down in its tranquility;
whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed,
but no confusion, no disturbance rude.
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right,
dared dignify the labor, bless the quest
in which we rest and, for small reason, think.

it is at moments after i have dreamed
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again,
I bring you, calling out as children do.
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain.
If only you would free, at least, the sparrows
pinned down by need and moaning for release.

Source: Lines taken from thehypertexts.com, The Best Sonnets of All Time compiled by Michael R. Burch

Method: Constraining myself to only the poems included on one website, I extracted lines which essentially kept to iambic pentameter in order to construct a blank verse sonnet (though line 10 is iambic hexameter).  Each line of the Cento had to come from separate poems. The aim was to take lines from poems written in several different centuries in order to construct a piece that spoke to a contemporary issue brought on by Trump’s election.

David P. Wilkins is a semi-retired anthropological linguist living in Sydney, Australia. Though he has written poetry his whole life, this is the first time he has sent out his poetry to be published.

Brit Lit Weighs In by D. R. James

Billows were breaking, sea against sand,
long before prime had rung from any bell—
and from a long way, hard and dangerous.
Yet little good hath got, and much lesse gayne
by spells and medicines bought of mountebanks.
Each flower had wept, and bowed toward the east,
time’s winged chariot hurrying near,
but when the assault was intended to the city,
(before polygamy was made a sin)
their fluid bodies half dissolved in the light.
Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair,
the applause of listening senates to command,
they reeled, they set, they crossed, they cleekit,
and then the perilous path was planted.
I rose and turned toward a group of trees
through caverns measureless to man,
which kept my optics free from all delusion,
now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
diffused unseen throughout eternal space.
Once more uprose the mystic mountain-range,
and I, perchance, half felt a strange regret
of all the thousand nothings of the hour,
not knowing in any wise compassion,
all things counter, original, spare, strange.
Drawn on by vague imaginings, maybe,
the full round moon and the star-laden sky,
to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
tell me not here, it needs not saying.
This land, cut off, will not communicate:
spot the blown word, and on the seas I imagine,
in short, a past that no one now can share.

Sources: Beowulf, Chaucer, Everyman, Spenser, Shakespeare, Herrick, Marvell, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Gray, Burns, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Swinburne, Hopkins, Hardy, Yeats, Eliot, Housman, Auden, Thomas, Larkin.

Method: I’d never written a cento before, in fact never heard of it and now can’t remember quite how I did, but once I discovered the form and that it is “found,” I knew I had to try one.  So I pulled out my trusty, undergrad Brit Lit I & II anthologies and began searching chronologically through the ages and poets, looking for single lines to steal and sequence. I was amazed that once I had a couple (in this case from Beowulf and Chaucer) the rest practically leapt off the pages to become the next, next, and next.  The 2016 election and subsequent inauguration were heavily on my mind, and I found the resulting poem to be, in a slaunch-wise way, a commentary on the situation.  I would guess that if I hadn’t said that, readers would find their own connections, political or not.

DR. James’s seven collections include If god were gentle,Since Everything Is All I’ve Got,and the most recent chapbooks Why War and Split-Level. Poems and prose also appear in various print and online journals and anthologies. James lives in Saugatuck, Michigan, and has taught writing, literature, and peace-making at Hope College for 33 years.

Like Any Good Son by Kathy Douglas

Open this when you need me most
Don’t you know? A mother’s love can’t sleep
Instead, let it be the echo to every footstep

Suppose you do change your life
Tell me it was for hunger, a finger’s worth
of dark from daybreak behind the fallen oak,

a scar’s width of warmth on a worn man’s neck
where everything has a price afterward.
I woke into the red dark.  There was a door

& then a door
a b c   a b c a b c   Red
is only black remembering we made it

Don’t be afraid
I approach a field
I pull into the field

& cut the engine
& close his eyes
& this is how we danced


Source: First lines. Vuong, Ocean. Night Sky With Exit Wounds.  Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

Method: Selected first lines are transcribed in list form, and the poem is written using the list as a basis (including title).  No words are added.  Not all lines are used.  Lines are moved, blended, restructured, and truncated (at end only). All words are kept in the order in which they appear in the original line of text. 

Kathy Douglas is writing a series of centos on estrangement using first lines from individual books of poetry. Kathy has three poems forthcoming in an anthology of found poetry, and her work can be found in Right Hand Pointing, After The Pause, shufpoetry, Unlost Journal, Calyx, Drunken Boat, The Cafe Review, Noctua, and Poetry WTF?! She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College.

Untouched by Shloka Shankar

Sprawling like a thought unformed,
I will begin – but how should I begin?
The problem is to make the effort.

Somewhere among my dreams,
with cold, determined intellect,
I am corrupted by the world, continually.

All my waiting turned to this:
a worried look, a tired way of speech,
words, looks, gestures, everything betrays
when I pretend to be happy.

How much of me you leave untouched,
the lyrical impulse frozen.
Desire.

I do not want
whatever is beyond my reach;
this longing is for nakedness.

Sources & Method: A cento composed from the first lines of a selection of poems by Nissim Ezekiel, including Birth, Description, Problem, Dualism, Division, The Double Horror, Failure, Communication, On Meeting a Pedant, Confession, For Her, The Stuffed Owl, Nocturne, A Different Way, Motives, The Railway Clerk, For William Carlos Williams, and Nakedness (I).

Shloka Shankar is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. She has found her niche in Japanese short-forms and remixed poetry alike. Her poems and visual art pieces have most recently appeared in Otoliths, Bones, Calamus Journal, Frameless Sky, Narrow Road, and so on. Shloka is the founding editor of Sonic Boom.

Kiss it Goodbye by Ross McCleary

On a dark desert highway, there you stand.
There’s talk and it sounds so familiar:

He was a hard-headed man on the street,
She came from Providence with cool wind in her hair.

“Well baby.”

“Hey there, how are you?”

What kind of love have you got
When you’re out there on your own?

Source & Method: The poem is constructed from the opening lines from each song on the Eagles’ album ‘Hotel California’ and then mashed them together a little. I actually wrote the first draft of this 3 years ago, sent it to a friend, who liked it, and then did a grand total of nothing with it. I then rediscovered it today, had a tinker with it, and settled on its final structure.

Ross McCleary is from Edinburgh and is a poet, fiction writer, and podcaster. His work has recently appeared in Pop To, Structo, and Pushing Out The Boat. He co-edits podcast journal Lies, Dreaming as part of the Poetry as F*ck collective.