Since writing my Robert Lowell/Elizabeth Bishop centos last year, I’ve had a fondness for the form. Now, Danielle Pafunda is hosting a National Poetry Month Cento Contest! The top post lists the guidelines and has links to the poetry lines that are to be used in crafting your cento. Then the entrants’ centos follow, in individual posts of their own. If you read the sidebar on the right, you’ll find direct links to each entry. A wild array of choices! Some familiar names, too.

I think the different paths we took indicate the mode we generally work within as poets. Take my entry. While I’m not exactly someone who uses narrative, I seem to always have to impose some sort of implied story. When I worked on my own centos, I chose the lines myself. It was absorbing working with assigned lines, exploring how the parts might fit together.

Anyway, if you want to try your hand, you have until noon today to enter. In either case, you should wander over and read a while. You might find, as you read, that you itch to change things around…

“Remembrance–mighty word.”*

I’ve had an interesting enough life, I think. But I’ve never had that impulse before, the almost visceral drive to document my life in prose. The memoir. You could argue that’s what I do here, but I think of this as a selection of very loose-jointed, random snapshots.

I get it now. Though it’s not my own life I feel compelled to record, but my mother’s. And not actually her entire life, but the last five days of it. Days we didn’t know were her last.

The 2:00 am shuffle-shuffle to the commode, her arms tight around my neck as I held her up. We’re dancing, she wheezed.

The night Vincent stayed up past his bedtime telling Syllab0-stories to her, fairly glowing with necessity. He had to tell her these stories, nothing could dim the force of his intensity.

Her final hours, which came on so fast. Three weeks since she died, now. How each day without her makes its own memorial.

I was listening to The Culture Gabfest on Slate, because this edition features an interview with Meghan O’Rourke (after the Sidney Lumet film discussion) about her memoir, The Long Goodbye. Find the time somewhere, and listen. She talks about our common need for ritual, and our also common discomfort with others’ grief, and how often the loss of a parent can be seen as less. Less of a trauma, less of a loss.

She says that sometimes, all we really need is a space, acknowledgment, not to discuss it so much, just to give grief its due. I can’t remember her exact, perfect phrasing, so please, listen. This struck me as particularly and brilliantly insightful — last week we had an evening for just this sort of communal acknowledgment. Something beyond a memorial or funeral, something that makes plain that this is a wound that doesn’t heal, a permanent and irreconcilable emptiness.

My friend, Lea, lost her mother ten days before mine died. So my sweet and thoughtful husband came up with a plan, a joint remembrance, a Poetry Potluck Buck-Up Party, which our friends at Mocha Maya’s Coffee House kindly opened their doors for. Food, friends, and poetry, my ideal.

The very point of the night was to make a space for our losses, acknowledge their significance. To be open and honest and raw in grief, among friends. To be recognized as bereft. Bereft.

So many dear friends came, I can’t begin to tell you how potent it was. I love my mother, miss my mother, think of something I want to tell my mother every other minute ¬†— to stand up and be known in my grief meant the world. Thank you, my friends.

*The Borzoi Reader Poem-A-Day, April 10, 2011: A Letter from Emily Dickinson written on the occasion of her mother’s death.

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2011!


A thousand thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon for once again spearheading that bonanza of poetry goodness, the Big Poetry Giveaway. Be sure to travel to her blog to see the list of all the other participants — generosity abounds!

Last year I gave away a couple books and a subscription. This year I will award all subscriptions, to some of my favorite poetry journals. To enter, simply leave a comment to this post. On May 1, I will use the Random Number Generator to choose the winners. The prizes:

Four prizes, four chances to win — Happy National Poetry Month!