Inside our new Spring 2018 issue of Jet Fuel Review (with cover art by Australian artist Jim Tsinganos), you will find a special section that specifically highlights a particular style of poem known as the cento, which is a unique form in which an author creates a piece by stitching together lines borrowed only from the works of others. To help kick-off the launch celebration of our 15th issue, we’ve asked some of our own to join in on the fun and construct a piece or two themselves.
Presented below is a portion of the Special Section’s introduction as written by JFR Assistant Managing Editor, Zakiya Cowan, followed by a collection of wonderful centos written by not only the editors of Jet Fuel Review but also some members of the Lewis University community at large. A few of the writers included here are experienced veterans of the genre, others are amateurs, and some have never written a poem in their adult life. However, each piece remains a showcase of talent and form that we are incredibly excited to share with you.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor
The Jet Fuel Review editors are excited to share with you the noteworthy gem of Issue 15, our cento collection. “Cento” is Latin for “patchwork,” and in terms of poetic form, a cento is a “patchwork” of lines taken from various works. According to the introduction of Hosidius Geta’s “Medea:” A Virgilian Cento, by Joseph J. Mooney, Geta’s “Medea” is the first recorded cento, dating back between 200 C.E. and 300 A.D. Classified as a Virgilian cento, “Medea” is composed of lines from works by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil. A Frankenstein-like composition, each line is carefully sutured to the next in order to create thought-provoking images and metaphors that seamlessly weld with one another, and ultimately crafts a piece that pays homage to other’s work while creating a new text.
We hope you both enjoy and appreciate the thoughtful artistry that is involved when constructing the cento, and hopefully discover a newfound love for this longstanding, intricate form.
An introductory note on the story “Four Points and a Necklace” by Sharon Houk
For me, the genre of flash fiction is a delicious combination of poetry and storytelling. In China, this type of miniature story is called “smoke long,” meaning you can read it in the same amount of time it takes to smoke a cigarette. You can’t waste time. Every word counts. It reaches beyond itself.
“Four Points and a Necklace” was inspired by an x-ray. I was told to get dressed after four injections were fluoroscopically guided into my neck vertebrae, but instead I snapped a photo of the image remaining on the monitor. My neck: with four points and a necklace. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a picture, a phrase, a hat. Frankly, I have about five lifetimes of inspiration already backlogged. I’m never at a loss when I need a catalyst for writing.
The thing that tips inspiration into an actual piece of writing is some problem. I never write just to write. I write to solve problems. I write to understand something that is, for me, just beyond language. I mix fiction and experience and comedy and I don’t stop until I’ve said, “That’s it!” That was the thing. That thing. And sometimes other people find it entertaining, too, and all in the time it takes them to smoke a cigarette.
Sharon Houk is Adjunct Faculty in the department of Math & Computer Science.
An introductory note on ekphrastic poetry (“Artists at Their Easels” ) by Dr. Michael Cunningham:
I have been interested in portraiture, artists’ renderings of the human face and figure. And I am interested in self representation, especially in the two forms where it is commonly found: the memoir/autobiography and in paint.
My “Artists at Their Easels” project is a result of the convergence of these two interests. At first the subjects came to me; for a long time I have been familiar with and provoked by the mischievous Rene Magritte’s “Clairvoyance.” The same is true for Jan Vermeer’s “The Artist in His Studio.” I have been fascinated by the photography of Vivian Maier, the North Shore nanny who shot thousands of street scenes in Chicago at the middle of the 20th century, none of which were reproduced until her negatives and proof sheets were discovered at a garage sale in the last decade. I was delight to find that, in some cases, Maier had turned the camera on herself, capturing her fleeting image in a huge department store window.
In other cases, I have deliberately looked for self-portraits in studio settings. I was familiar with the work of British avant-gardist Lucian Freud, but didn’t know that he had done self-portraits until I investigated.
If the limited number of poems that comprise this project can be classified, it would be in this way: poems in which the artist speaks and those in which an observer speaks. In the first category, I am challenged to be a good mind reader, that is, to take what information I may gather about the artist and imagine what he or she might be thinking. The poem about the Frida Kahlo painting shown here is such an instance. My research is not extensive. Though I have seen and enjoyed “Frida,” the 2002 biopic, and have seen a number of exhibits of her work and that of her contemporaries at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, I have not read Hayden Herrara’s biography. I suppose that this leaves me open to the charge of “historical error,” but then complete fidelity is not my goal. The Frida who speaks in this poem is the Frida that I imagine.
In fashioning poems in the second category –- those about viewer responses – I rely on my own engagement with the poems. The speaker in these poems is some version of myself. The voice found in the poem about Vermeer is close to my own. It’s me that finds something intriguing about the use of red, an unusual color in the painter’s palette. The voice that you hear in the poem about the naked and aging Lucian Freud is my own; in the painting I find an image of my own increasingly decrepit form.
Dr. Michael Cunningham is the Director of the Lewis University Arts & Ideas program.
An introductory note on the poem “After the dishes are done” by Harold McCay
The spilling of wine has a proud history as a metaphor going back at least as far as Euripides. Medea refers to the stain on her hand as the crushed grapes of the wine she has prepared for Jason. And, there is, of course, the wine of the sacrament. And on and on. This is not in that vein. Here, the cigar may just be a cigar. This once had a working title of “In Lieu of the Evening News.” But I felt it imposed. Like an attempt to compete with Dover Beach. Ignorant armies abound, for sure. And they can’t be ignored. But neither can trivialities. Trivialities may be trivial, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. Perhaps.
Harold McCay is a professor in the Theater Department at Lewis University.
If you could travel anywhere, where would your destination be?
I have longed to travel to China for thirty years because of the amazing arts, history, beauty, and my curiosity regarding Chinese literature. Ten years ago, I was so fortunate to travel to both China and Hong Kong. I accompanied some of the Lewis University Business Department faculty members and their students, who were studying international business there.
While in Hong Kong, we all took a river cruise, which was the inspiration for the poem below.
The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day is one of those books that made me want to buy a whole bunch of copies to distribute to my friends. If you’re looking for a perfect gift for that reader in your life, check out The Black Hour.
The crime novel opens with sociology professor Amelia Emmet attempting to resume her academic career while still recovering from a violent attack from a student—a student who shot and killed himself after shooting her. With the identity of the shooter known, the central mystery of the novel is not “whodunnit?” but “whydunnit?”
As Emmet re-acclimates to her university life, she finds her colleagues suspicious and awkward with her victim status. It does not help matters that her memory of the attack is clouded, confused, and completely lacking in details that will help provide an explanation or even a coherent narrative. For a professor who studies violence, her inability to understand and process the attack is as frustrating as the physical limitations she faces in the wake of her injuries. Graduate student Nathaniel Barber, Emmet’s teaching assistant is equally curious about the motive behind the attack. Academic research quickly gives way to investigative legwork as the pair try to learn more about the shooter and his possible motive for wanting to kill Emmet.
The skillfully constructed plot and characters are complex enough to keep the reader engaged and intrigued without feeling overwhelmed and confused. Rader-Day’s prose is crisp and concise, never losing sight of the central storyline. Her ability to alternate point-of-view is masterful as is her ability to subtly reveal the subtext of her characters’ behavior in a realistically constructed academic setting; it is hard to believe this is her first novel. Violence and depression loom large in the narrative, but the characters are written with such clarity and purpose that the darkness never fully envelops them (or, thankfully, the reader). It’s one of those books you can’t put down and are sad to see come to an end. Reading the novel is a thrilling ride that comes to an end satisfactorily, though all too quickly.
This month of October—which begins with Dashain in Nepal and ends with Samhain among the Celts, which sees the conclusion of National Hispanic Month and the start of German Heritage Month and includes Indigenous and Italian and Polish Heritage celebrations, as well as the Independence Days of Cyprus and Portugal, Nigeria and Turkey, Turkmenistan and the Grenadines, with the birthday of Ghandi on the 2nd, Lief Erikson Day on the 9th, and Thanksgiving Day in Canada on the 12th–seems a fitting time to encourage JFR blog readers (and everyone) to explore the global vastness of poetry—itself the oldest and most universal genre. I’m also prompted to propose such an exploration because my father called me the other night to ask if I knew anything of the poetry of the Bible and why it didn’t rhyme. Finally, I thought, he’s glad I was an English major and became a poet!
Similarly, in my Native American literature class, I recently introduced students to the basic elements of all good poetry (rhythm, repetition, and imagery)—something I introduce in every literature course I teach—and always there’s a question about the assumed requirement of rhyme, especially for poetry in English.