I have thought a bit about the cento. I read with Maxine Chernoff a few years ago for Small Press Traffic’s reading series, and at the time, she read from Among the Names, (some of) which is written in cento. While I don’t remember specifics (it’s been years), I remember enjoying her reading and her poems. Oscar has a poem which is an elegy to GURU, and this poem is comprised of nothing but GURU song titles. So that’s a cento, no?
I am bringing this up now, the cento, because I randomly received (a review copy of) Noah Eli Gordon’s The Source in the mail yesterday evening, and am thinking about its premise:
“We read these words on page 26 of The Source, Noah Eli Gordon’s strange and haunting cento—a book assembled from thousands of instances of page 26, as found in the volumes of the Denver Public Library, their deployment of our alphabet with its twenty-six letters yielding an astonishing variety of source material that constitutes Noah Eli Gordon’s adventure in numerology. Language is literally charged with meaning in exciting new ways.” —Marjorie Perloff
There’s more, regarding Kabbalist numerology as well. I am interested in any process that brings us to the poem. I am wondering though, about the randomness of the source material. Yes, surprise happens. Yes, we must be open to language in all places. I’ve leafed through the collection, and wasn’t particularly held in/by it. So maybe I just need to be open and try again; indeed, I’ve come upon a lot of work that seemed unlikely to move or impress me, and from which I have come away impressed. But if the experiment and the process are potentially more interesting than the resulting work, then is that enough?
Perhaps it’s enough that the unexpected appearance of this book in my mailbox has got me thinking about my own possible forays into cento. What source material would I use? Aren’t I already kind of doing this, in a more directed manner, with my Pinay narratives project?
As a sometimes-book reviewer, how should I decide which books to review?
And finally, how do we come to the book in the first place? Given our busy lives, given how saturated we are with work, how do we decide what to read? When picking up a book off a bookstore shelf, how do you decide which ones to spend your money on and take home?