Women Poets Cento

A poet friend tells me that the obituaries in the New York Times, historically and recently, are ninety percent men. So I checked my own bookshelves. Indeed, ninety percent of the books in my large and growing collection of poetry were written by men. So I set myself a goal to become familiar with the poetry of fifty women poets. Most of them should be new to me. The best way I know to do this is to write a cento. Cento is latin for patchwork. A cento is a poem made from one hundred lines of poetry taken from other poets.

This poem uses lines from forty three women poets, most of them new to me. Their names are at the bottom. I particularly enjoyed getting to know the work of Venus Khoury-Ghata and Kapka Kassabova.

Pouring on Fuel

The wreck of the Mary Ross is bitten into me
Due to foam, practically no visibility
Beethoven on the Beaufort scale
Cords, near the core, we shouted to lower our eyes

The sea itself was trying to freeze over
with an expanding map shaped like an angel
With crystallised honey rough in my throat
In meinen Erinnerungen ist immer Winter

When things were ready, they poured on fuel and touched off the fire
They waited for a high wind. It was very fine, that powdered bone
The buildings stood still like shocked witnesses
Their eyes and knees as thin as rain

They’re coming in from the road now
like mine horses born to live in the depths
darkness glued to their foreheads
being human is to have won from space this unchill interior

The dying are like tops, like gyroscopes
they spin so rapidly they seem to be still
in the body’s crypts there were signs
It’s crazy what two hands can conceal

My dad, insomniac shift-worker, blood-eyed
We tugged the poverty line as an argument with our neighbors
Behind these eyes that look like mine
This vast place has covered me from head to toe

“It’s nothing, he’ll get up,” I thought, “it’s just that stupid
wild cherry on his shirt.”
What if there were a hidden pleasure in calling one thing by another’s name?
These seagulls above the parking lot, hurricane and ether

Under baskets of sour cherries
very quietly the face fell into two pieces
Language lost its thread
scraping into the ground, without purpose

Life acute along the blade of a cliff edge
Your death, your ash, your soot share the rage at leaving
the taste of which you’ve put way back in the first kiss
There are as many ways of yearning as there are ways for rain

God almighty, I’d be well shot of you
I shall stand there, face to face when your dark mirror breaks
A worm betrayed by another worm
Now it writhes, both in dreams, and everywhere

I wanted to stay in the earth
There, I needed no skin—the dark body was all around me
Almost swallowed by the vastness of the mountains
but not yet

My mother let bleach run through her syntax
On the other side of punctuation her syllables became whiter
Are you interested in stealing instincts? Or in explaining
secrets of a world that rules with age and equidistance?

I tried to keep my mouth shut
But my tongue did not have any more room
For scars in the shape of my teeth
Conceit is the vacuum energy

In the land of dwarfs, scales are small
the contracted wits of paper-worms
The first dog in space did not come back
Came back as dust and rain

Now I want to sequester words, hold them in stress positions
‘again’ is a big word
The others have gone on with their children
The corn poppies came first, then the locusts
Does poetry keep itself cometically high like a goose above Ooy?
a fat failure rising to the zenith every day, panting heavily
where black mendicant nuns piss there on grey rocks
forever floating through the universe?

How fast is this camera? Can it record a trace?
This trace, if it exists, is alms for delusion
Your chamomile breath escapes
like a lamb from the sheep pen

The sound of green footsteps is the rain
I only give birth to seeds and to shells
Barely do I glimpse a swallow
Beyond the wall another wall

I consult my great itinerary of confusions
We have a soul at times. No one’s got it non-stop
It usually steps out whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled

Cursing the rooms of other people
There was a little less empty in the emptiness
Slowly and quickly–again
The border is ten steps away

These days men on curbs are curved
Like farm tools or bits of wire
a parchment spelling out twenty uses for difficult
white bone among the clouds

I hang about their anterooms
drink again this Juice of April suns
my name is written on the slate of this age, my song
There will be blackbirds, in a late March evening

On Half Moon Street we eat Tunisian orange cake
under a painting of a melon that spills seeds like love
I do not know what is innocent between friends
The tender meat of palms pulped like plums

The good men on the radio start coughing
I flap my wings more amply and a wind comes up
At first I only sensed the obvious
Moonwax trickling over my brow

Daily the sun slits its own ghost’s throat and rises in blood
I aspire to the horizon on a thread of light
I will wait for something to emerge,
like a man at sea carving his children from soap

Amber Flora Thomas
Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Maarja Kangro
Suad Al-Sabah
Andrée Chedid
Forough Farrokhzad
Margaret Avison
Tishani Doshi
Ann Lauterbach
Hinemoana Baker
Martine Audet
Torild Wardenær
Anneke Brassinga
Justyna Bargielska
Mary Ruefle
Tua Forsström
Athena Farrokhzad
Kamala Das
Mishka Mourani
Ursula Fanthorpe
Babette Deutsch
Kapka Kassabova
Mona Arshi
Ursula Krechel
Brigitte Oleschinski
Laura Kasischke
Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Venus Khoury-Ghata
C.J. Sage
Lidija Cvetkovic
Nadia Anjuman
Vivienne Bateman
Denise Desautels
Linda Maria Baros
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Vivienne Margaret Bateman
Ekaterina Yossifova
Louise Gluck
Rae Armantrout
Wislawa Szymborska
Eva Ström
Luljeta Lleshanaku
Regina Derieva

2 responses to “Women Poets Cento

  1. In an act of poetic defiance, I have flipped the leading role male poets have had, looking up now to women as the standard bearers of versosity. Audre Lorde and Muriel Rukeyser lead in this scheme of things. I have bookmarked this page as a resource for discovery of recommended women poets. Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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