Poetic forms: Centos and Haikus

Poetic forms: the cento

A cento is like a rag rug, it’s composed of bits and pieces from other things. In the case of the rug, it’s pieces of old fabric. For the cento, it’s made of verses or passages from other poems, songs, articles, stories, or whatever by other authors.811583493_2871931482_0

Here’s a link to follow for more about centos:

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/cento-poetic-form

The first cento I ever wrote was a haiku sequence, and perhaps because I’m a musician, I composed it using verses from old songs: Clementine, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Jingle Bells, Good King Wencheslas, and the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons,” which is one of my favorites. The haiku sequence was the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count of the Japanese haiku, rather than the freer form (seventeen syllables or less) used in so many modern American haiku. Choosing the 5-7-5 syllable count made it easy to select the songs.

 

See

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/haiku-poetic-form

for more about haikus.

 

Go tell Aunt Rhody, A Haiku Sequence

 

Twelve drummers drumming

When the snow was round about

Now the ground is white

 

Nine ladies dancing

Excavating for a mine

Dashing through the snow

 

Ten lords a leaping

When the snow lay round about

making spirits bright

 

Dashing through the snow

A partridge in a pear tree

Make the Yule-tide gay

 

If the Fates allow

When a poor man came in sight

Let your heart be light

 

And the store boss said

When a poor man came in sight

jingle all the way!

 

Here’s one I wrote  using lines from songs about the sea.

Sailor’s Song

 

A hundred years ago, three thousand miles away

A Yankee ship came down the river

With the tinkers and tailors and soldiers and all

 

Bound to the westward where the stormy winds blow

When this bold pirate

Fought them up and down

 

Fire in the cabin, fire in the hold

For to fight the foreign foe

Captain Hull broke his heart and died

 

He fought like a hero till he died

And fifty-five more lay bleeding in gore

Then the signal was sent for the grand ship to anchor.

They dug his grave with a silver spade

 

 

Here’s where they came from:

http://www.contemplator.com/sea/index.html

A Hundred Years Ago, “A Hundred years ago”

Three Thousand Miles, “Three Thousand Miles Away”

Blow, Boys, Blow, “A Yankee Ship Came Down the River”

Blow the Man Down, “With the tinkers and tailors and soldiers and all”

The Dreadnought, “..bound to the westward where the stormy winds blow”

The Bold Princess Royal, ” .. when this bold pirate”

Admiral Benbow, ” ..fought them up and down”

Fire Down Below, ” Fire in the cabin, fire in the hold,”

Johnny Todd, “For to fight the foreign foe”

Captain Hull, “Captain Hull”

Boney Was A Warrior “broke his heart and died”

Bold Nelson’s Praise, “He fought like a hero till he died”

John Paul Jones, “and fifty-five more lay bleeding in gore”

Spanish Ladies, “Then the signal was sent for the grand ship to anchor”

Storm Along, “They Dug His Grave with a silver spade”

And how, you might ask, did I pick these lines? After I decided I wanted to write a cento using lines from songs about the sea, I searched for a website, and found the one above. I started down the list of songs, picking lines that looked like they might fit. Then I rearranged them. Then I rearranged them again. Then I passed the result past my poetry critique group, removed two lines that didn’t fit, and rearranged the poem into three line stanzas instead of quatrains. And there it was.

Try it — it’s loads of fun.

 

 

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