Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poetry Meets Tarot Synchronicity: Crafting Centos and Leaning on Your Beloveds

While teaching “Election Blues: The Gift of Agency in Poetry” this spring, my poetry student Marcia Meier introduced me to the poetic form of the cento. (Marcia’s cento, drafted during our class and published in April at Writer’s Resist, can be read here: Scent of Mock Orange.)

Here’s a definition and a little background, Cento: Poetic Form, from Academy of American Poets, poets.org. In a nutshell, a cento is a poem comprised solely of a group of lines, each borrowed from a different writer.

I created the class, “Election Blues,” to help me break through the stunned quiet enveloping me after the election. When Marcia suggested centos, I felt immediate relief. I could draw on the strength and power of other writers to “get back home.” That day, I grabbed the volumes within arm’s reach off my bookshelf, women I admire and love (with the exception of WCW—he appears in only one of the centos):

Audre Lord
Kay Ryan
Ruth Thompson
Joy Harjo
Colleen J. McElroy
Emily Dickinson
Maxine Hong Kingston
Bhanu Kapil
Sylvia Plath
Joan Swift
Malinda Markham
William Carlos Williams

Because I was simultaneously teaching a Tarot writing class, I instinctively used Tarot reading principles as I began the process of making my centos.

When reading Tarot cards, you usually start by focusing on a question of the heart, shuffling the cards, and choosing cards blind (meaning the cards remain face down while you are choosing so the images are hidden until you begin the reading).

When drafting centos, I used the randomly selected volumes of poetry as my “deck.” I focused on one person related to the election at a time, put my hand on my heart, and opened to the mix of emotions I was feeling. Each time I let the book in my hand fall open and let my eye fall on a line.

Once I had copied down roughly ten lines, one from each volume for each person I was writing a cento for, I brought my writer self to bear on rearranging the lines into a meaningful order that best reflected my various states of love, gratitude, fear, and concern.

I was surprised by the richness and seeming appropriateness of the images and lines that fell, though after having worked with the Tarot for so  long, I was prepared for synchronicity. Poetry, like Tarot, works powerfully by association and context, so when you plug in a question or a focus for a Tarot reading, or you plug in a title or person as the focus for a cento, the associations boomerang back to that central question, person, or title, causing us to look deeper.

Of course you can argue that any random group of lines can be made to mean one thing in one context and something entirely different in another, but it didn’t stop me from trying the form and enjoying the inadvertent “reading.” I hope that beyond speaking privately and specifically to me, just as a Tarot reading would, the centos still work as poems on their own. You’ll have to let me know.

I’m honored that five in the series, “A Thank You Letter to Barack Obama,” “An Open Letter to Donald Trump, “ “An Iris for Hillary,” “Emerald Dream, For Michelle Obama,” and “Ghost Ribs, For Melania Trump” have been chosen by Nicelle Davis for an event in Venice, “Poetry Postcards at Beyond Baroque: write your political concerns to representatives.” The event is hosted by Nicelle Davis, Armine Iknadossian, and Quentin Ring; please do join us if you are in the area this coming Sunday, April 30, from 1-4. Our generous hosts print up the poems and provide a space for folks to gather, address postcards, pen messages to representatives, and read a little poetry aloud. Here’s the Facebook link to “Poetry postcards at Beyond Baroque.”

Hall and Pryputniewicz blockprint
In case you can’t make it to be with us this weekend,  I’ve recorded three of the centos, “A Thank you Letter to Barack Obama,” "An Open Letter to Donald Trump," and "An Iris for Hillary," as MP3s you can access from my Events page on my main site.

Next time you find yourself poetically blocked or lost I hope you’ll try writing a cento. Take your beloveds down off the bookshelf and lean on their strength! Or set the arrow of your intention and curiosity along any line: humor, love, spirituality, sport fishing—you name it—and see which harvest of poetry lines your deck of books brings you.

Related links:

I’ll be participating in the Ten Thousand Waves reading at the Museum of Women in Liberty Station, organized by Katya Williamson; I hope you’ll join us! Here’s the description from the flier.

Ten Thousand Waves: Come join us for an afternoon of original prose and poetry. We hope to inspire, raise awareness, comfort, entertain, and enjoy each other’s company.

4:30-6:30 on May 13th
Women’s Museum, Liberty Station
2730 Historic Decatur Road, Barracks 16
92106, SD
Admission: $5

Losing Joan Swift:

In early March, I was heartbroken to learn that the gifted poet Joan Swift passed away (pictured here on the back jacket of The Dark Path of Our Names, photo by Mary Randlett, 1985). I can’t begin to express my gratitude for Swift's poetry. I first encountered her work as an undergraduate student at UC Davis in one of Sandra McPherson’s seminars. What a blessing to have been unwittingly working with Joan’s lines to create the centos in January and February.

If you wish to attend a memorial celebration and reading for Joan Swift, here's a link to an event posted by Poets and Writers, a May 16, 2017 event in Seattle. 

Here’s a link to a selection of poems by Swift that we ran at The Fertile Source in 2010. And  also up at the Fertile Source,  a 2010 Interview with Joan Swift

Here's a link to another  beautiful poem by Swift, "Sometimes a Lake" posted by Poetry Northwest in January of this year and another posted by Jennifer Flenniken at The Far Field: "Listening to My Bones." 

I will write more about Joan’s work in a future post. My love and deepest condolences to her family.


Michelle Wing said...

Tania, thank you so much for the homage to Joan Swift. I hadn't read "Sometimes a Lake," and it is simply breath-taking.
So thrilled about the home for your centos! It was a joy to be part of the class...and I loved learning the form, and will use it again!

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

You are so welcome, Michelle! I love the way Swift uses form, and I admire and love her fearlessness. I can't wait to see what you do with your eye, and can't wait to see what comes through you in the form of centos (you, too, are so very brave with your work). Do share--

Anonymous said...

Tania, thank you so much for the homage to Joan Swift. I hadn't read "Sometimes a Lake," and it is simply breath-taking.


Tania Pryputniewicz said...

You are so welcome! Thank you for stopping by to read here and for keeping Joan with us a little longer by reading her work.