Next Line, Please

Our Crowd-Sourced Cento: Stanza One

Ten Blind Nights

By David Lehman | April 14, 2015


Some very inspired entries came in for the opening stanza of our crowd-sourced cento—a concept and a phrase I like all the more because, in a sense, every cento is “crowd-sourced.” And our project has the added virtue of spreading the word about what we are reading and who are the favorites to whom we turn at such a moment. I am delighted to see reading lists featuring such underrated greats as A. R. Ammons, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Joseph Ceravolo, Louise Bogan—not to mention Shakespeare, Blake, Thomas Hardy, and T. S. Eliot.

I wavered among three or four top candidates before choosing this quatrain by Paul Michelsen:

The wheels of a darkness without pain
Ten nights, without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses
Ten blind nights free of idiot guiding flares
And in the silence, drips and cackles—taciturn, luxurious.

(Sources, as identified by Michelsen:
Frank Stanford, “The Light the Dead See”
Arthur Rimbaud, “The Drunken Boat,” translated by Wallace Fowlie*
Arthur Rimbaud, “The Drunken Boat,” translated by Martin Sorrell*
Rosemary Tonks, “The Sofas, Fogs, and Cinemas”
*Both are translations of the following line: “Dix nuits, sans regretter l’oeil niais des falots!” The only “cheat” in these lines is the dropping of the end punctuation on lines 2 & 3.)

Picking two different renderings of the same line from Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau ivre” struck me as ingenious—and the maneuver works so well in context. Kudos, Paul.

Tied for the top runner-up slot are stanzas by Aaron Fagan and Berwyn Moore. Here is Aaron’s. The disjunctions are arresting, yet the first three lines flow smoothly—and then Ammons’s line comes along as if from an entirely different paradigm, pointing us in a fruitful new direction (and reminding us to read ARA’s late masterpiece Garbage):

The whole livery line
and the hitherto frowning moon fawns and
should take me and take you into their balloon,
garbage is spiritual, believable enough

(Fagan identifies his sources as, in order:

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Frank O’Hara
ee cummings
A. R. Ammons)

I love what Berwyn Moore does with her sources in this terrific stanza. Each line seems to prefigure what follows it:

What lover, what dreamer, would choose
farming: good Lord, worming tobacco, digging
to metaphysical newmown hay.
Hell must break before I am lost.

Wallace Stevens, “Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion”
A. R. Ammons, “Auditions”
Marianne Moore, “Tell Me, Tell Me”
H. D., “Eurydice”

 For next time, we need another four-line stanza. How should it follow stanza one? I’m tempted to add a few other requirements—e.g., each candidate should include at least two words that appear in our initial stanza—but I leave it up to you. With great thanks for your efforts—and the hope that you will spread the word about our collaboration.

Deadline: Midnight, Saturday April 18.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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