Eric Fretz

ABECEDARIAN CENTO

Aim a poem at you, center of the forest at night,
But these are words that all can use –
Calm, alone, the cedar guitar
Denied the small desire.

Every poem an epitaph. And any action,
Free from the least knot, equal to the strain,
Grazed the delicate words
Having been steered there only by the heart’s mistakes.

I have strip-mined love for poetry,
Jointing syllables, drowning letters,
Kneeling down in the hot raft of daisies.

Lost poem, I know
My words jingle
Never encircled, and now I’m
Off my rocker. Oh Rachmaninoff!
Possibly that’s the reason I write these poems,
Que no tenga el secreto de mis palabras,
Reality enclosed in the heart.

Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The poem will resemble you
Until our beating hearts, our violins,
Various in arms, in habit, and in tongue,
Will never more be seen?
Expressing myself precisely, of
Your eyes that once were never weary of mine:
Zealous flesh, wild, yet godly divine.


SOURCES:

Ashbery, John. “A Box and Its Contents,” As We Know
Lord Byron, “The Giaour”
Cohen, Leonard. “Calm, Alone, the Cedar Guitar”
Dickinson, Emily. 876 [“It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone”]
Elliot, T.S. “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets
Frost, Robert. “The Axe Helve”
Guest, Barbara. “The Screen of Distance” Collected Poems p.229
Hollander, John. “West End Blues” Visions from the Ramble, XII
Issacson, Bruce. “Lost My Job & Wrote This Poem”
Johnson, Ben. “A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme”
Koch, Keneth. “With Janice”
Levertov, Denise. “An Embroidery” IV
Myles, Eileen. “An Attitude About Poetry”
Notley, Alice. “Poem”
O’Hara, Frank. “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday” [“Quick! a last poem…”]
Pinsky, Robert. “Poem with Refrains”
Quessep, Giovanni. “A Reading of William Blake” trans David G Murray
Rexroth, Kenneth. “The Spark in the Tinder of Knowing”
Stevens, Wallace. “Sunday Morning”
Tzara, Tristan. “To make a Dadaist poem”
Updike, John. “Evening Concert, Sainte-Chapelle”
Virgil. Aeneid, book 8, trans. Dryden
Wordsworth, William. “Lucy Gray, or Solitude”
Xi Xi, “What I’m Thinking of Is Not Written Words,” trans Jennifer Feeley
Yeats, W.B. “Ephemera”
Zaimis, G.F. Excavated: Athens to Alexandria, p.43.


METHOD: The constraints for my centos are that each line is a full line in a previously published poem. I cannot change a single letter of the line, but let myself alter terminal punctuation and initial capitalization. Here I adopted a ludicrous Oulipo-derived Abecedarian constraint: the poem is 26 lines long, the first line starting with A, the second B, and on through the end of the alphabet. To make it more limiting, the original author’s last name matches the letter of the line. I tried to create a poem that referred to the process of writing such absurd poems.


Eric Fretz studied contemporary art at CUNY graduate school, and is the author of Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biogaphy. He is not a poet, but has a weak spot for Oulipo experiments and constructing centos.