Celebrating National Poetry Month With A Tribute To Women Poets Of The Past

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By Joanna C. Migdal – Inspired by Women’s History Month, and in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of National Poetry Month, I composed this cento (also known as a collage poem) in tribute to women poets of the past.

In this form of poetry, lines are “lifted” from other sources and “woven” together to create a new, whole poem that stands on its own. Writing a cento is a kind of an extension of reading, a way to prolong the pleasure of lines and quotations as a souvenir of the reading experience. It becomes a mosaic of treasured lines that may provoke and or amuse the reader in their new context.

It was important to me that these women (from antiquity to modern times, from multi-cultural experiences) would all be woven together to hopefully demonstrate universal truths!

I use a line from Sappho as an epigraph: Someone, I tell you, will remember us. And, indeed, the lines have touched my heart as a narrative or poetic monologue by any one of these women as she might be attempting to compose a new poem one early evening. She ruminates on her craft and her life, the choices she’s made, her commitments.

Please enjoy “Goodnight, Noises Everywhere” in that spirit.


Goodnight, Noises Everywhere 1

(A collage poem)

Someone, I tell you, will remember us.   – Sappho, “Andromache”s Wedding”

It’s four in the afternoon, time still for a poem. 2
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 3
A silence opens, 4
And I shall stand here like a shadow under the great balanced day. 5
My room is so small that the days sneak in, humiliated. 6

I remember rooms that that have had their part in the steady slowing of the heart. 7
Why there is still all this space inside me, I don’t know. 8
I cannot say what loves have come and gone. 9
Tonight as always there is no one to share my thoughts. 10
I am a woman sick for passion, 11
But barely daring to breathe or achoo 12
In my congested cosmos of agony, 13
Pang after pang again and again, 14
Old as if ready to die. 15
Mere dust, a corpse, a shadow, a nothingness. 16
I hear dire threats everywhere. 17

A woman who writes feels too much. 18
I have gone out, a possessed witch. 19
I eat men like air. 20
Many things are better flavored with bacon.  21
There’s just no accounting for happiness.  22
But the mind is an enchanting thing. 23
And I am a smiling woman. 24

Now for a little I have fed on loneliness, 25
But I am completely nourished. 26
I have wanted other things more than lovers. 27
To find a rare jewel is easy, to get a good man is harder. 28
Ah, no, I dare not lose myself in dreams. 29
What a world of awkwardness! 30
I will try to be non-violent one more day. 31

Make a note of this: 32
The heart asks more than life can give.  33
Today is always gone tomorrow. 34
Everything passes even the sigh and the signature. 35
After all, ecstasy can’t be constant. 36
I dwell in Possibility. 37
Yes, for that most of all. 38

This is not verse, of course, I’m sure of this. 39
It may look like…disaster. 40
Thank you for hurrying through. 41
I too dislike it, 42
This ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain, 43
Helpless in the desire to be completed. 44
I’d like to fit the words right, but I’m disabled; that’s a fact. 45
I wanted to choose words that even you would have to be changed by, 46
Words that are luminous in the dark. 47
But even Dante couldn’t get it right. 48
There is no salvage. 49

Weeping I come to my heart’s destination, 50
And I’m a child again in a night that may be the last. 51
I lift my heavy heart up solemnly. 52
Life, believe me, is not a dream so dark as sages say;  53
It gives a lovely light, 54
Leaving my shadow still to be with you. 55
Somebody loves us all. 56

Let evening come, 57
With the damn wonder of it. 58
The only sanity is a cup of tea. 59
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet…tea. 60

– Joanna C. Migdal


References

  1. Margaret Wise Brown, “Goodnight Moon”
  2. Phyllis McGinley, “Public Journal”
  3. Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
  4. Amy Clampitt , “A Silence”
  5. Louise Bogan,  “Medusa”
  6. Leah Goldberg, “Nameless Journey”
  7. Charlotte Mew, “Rooms”
  8. Wislawa Symborska, “A Large Number”
  9. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Sonnet XLIII”
  10. Chu Shu-chen “Alone”
  11. Amy Lowell, “Appuldurcombe Park”
  12. Sylvia Plath, “Daddy”
  13. Mina Loy, “Parturition”
  14. 1 Christina Rossetti, “Introspection”
  15. Gabriela Mistral, “The Stranger”
  16. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, “On My Portrait”
  17. Hilda Doolittle (HD), “Chance”
  18. Anne Sexton, “The Black Art”
  19. Anne Sexton, “Her Kind”
  20. Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”
  21. Louise Niedecker, “Poet’s Work”
  22. Jane Kenyon, “Happiness”
  23. Marianne Moore, “But the Mind is an Enchanting Thing”
  24. Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”
  25. May Sarton, “The Fruit of Loneliness”
  26. Amy Lowell, “Decade”
  27. Kay Boyle, “Monody to the Sound of Zithers”
  28. Yu Hsuan-chi, “For a Neighbor Girl”
  29. Dorothy Parker, “Rosemary”
  30. Laura Riding, “The World and I”
  31. Muriel Rukeyser, “Waking This Morning”
  32. Dorothy Parker, “Unfortunate Coincidence”
  33. Sara Teasdale, “Moonlight”
  34. Wislawa Symborska, “Nothing Twice”
  35. Nelly Sachs, “Such Detours”
  36. Lorinne Niedecker, “Laundromat”
  37. Emily Dickenson, #657
  38. Denise Levertov, “The Secret”
  39. Marianne Moore, “Avec Ardeur”
  40. Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”
  41. Gertrude Stein, “Stanza on Meditation, LXXXII”
  42. Marianne Moore, “Poetry”
  43. Anne Bradstreet, “The Author to Her Book”
  44. Ruth Stone, “Coffee & Sweet Rolls”
  45. Jean Garrique, “Doggeral of a Die Hard Who Sleeps in a Nest of Newspapers”
  46. Adrienne Rich, “Implosions”
  47. Elinor Wylie, “Pretty Words”
  48. Wislawa Symborska, “A Large Number”
  49. Maxine Kumin, “Together”
  50. Stevie Smith, “The Death Sentence”
  51. Virginia Hamilton Adair, “Now We Lay Us”
  52. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet V”
  53. Charlotte Bronte, “Life”
  54. Edna St. Vincent Millay, “First Fig”
  55. Anna Akhmatova, “You Will Hear Thunder and Remember Me”
  56. Elizabeth Bishop, ‘The Filling Station”
  57. Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come”
  58. Lucille Clifton, “There is a Little Girl Inside”
  59. Gwendolyn Brooks, “Boy Breaking Glass”
  60. Gertrude Stein, “Susie Asado”
  • Dorn

    I love this collage conglomerate. A clever and creative integration of wise words into a new perspective.

    • Joanna C Migdal

      Yes, centos put our favorite lines/quotations into a new form…a way of preserving remnants in a way that patchwork quilts become a new work to treasure. the cento is becoming a popular form and I am working on a chapbook: lines of erotica from antiquity to modern times. Stay tuned! (and thank you again for your words of appreciation!

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