Posted by: John Looker | 14 October, 2016

Fourteen Intimations of Mortality

As a curiosity, here is a ‘poem’ that was found recently while turning the pages of a poetry magazine:

 

Fourteen Intimations Of Mortality

 

Once I was in a room with two men
seeming dead way ahead of time.
Death arrives with her bone hammer,
the captive bolt, the gun’s held breath.

I’m dying, I’m dying –
stroke my cheek, my dad is dead,
dear Mother come softly across your white veil.
One by one we started dis-

– it isn’t obvious how all this works – life
// do you believe you have consciousness
Now it’s dawn, and the names are leaving, one by one,
and the horse is restless in the stable.

     I will roar the Truth:
     the story about the night.

 

© John Looker 2016

 

Each line of this sonnet was a line by a different poet published in The Poetry Review, quarterly journal of the Poetry Society here in Britain, summer 2016 edition, volume 106.2 – gathered strictly in the order in which the poets occurred. The issue was not dedicated to the subject of death, unless the editors (or I?) were subconsciously looking for the shadow of the scythe.

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Responses

  1. Interesting concept, John. Strange how so many disparate lines should make so much sense when put together. I like it.

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    • I’m glad it struck you the same way, Tom. Thanks.

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  2. A fine example of the Cento, John. So much poetry is about death, whether explicitly or not, I think. And then there is, as you say, a kind of subconscious selection that may go on, in one’s own mind. It is your own choices that direct the poem. This one has some haunting images, and holds together really well. I enjoyed reading it!

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    • Hello Cynthia. It’s nice to hear from you. You are right about the haunting images – they seemed to just tumble out of the pages and fall into place. Almost nothing was needed on my part!

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  3. This is really kind of amazing! I loved the kaleidoscopic feel of the read even before I knew the circumstances.

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    • I’m so glad you liked it Elaine. It wrote itself!

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  4. The Cento has been somewhat of a controversial form in Aus-Lit circles of late, but we have at least one national champion of the form restoring it to order. I agree with Cynthia, this is a fine example, and I like its reason for existing: I wonder if you could find ‘fourteen intimations of immortality’ in the same journal? That would make for a fascinating companion piece.

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    • I might try that Brad. The autumn edition is out now and I’m working through that.

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  5. This form is new to me and it would be interesting to see how many similarly coherent poems could be seen in the same material from different readers. I guess you might see a different poem on a different day? I found the ambiguity about gender thought provoking.

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    • I’m very pleased to hear from you – thank you. The form is not one that I have attempted before, and really it was a bit of a game, but it suggested itself on reading that journal as there seemed to be so many lines that pointed to death or dying. However, you must be right that a different poem might emerge from reading on another day if the reader were in a different frame of mind!

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  6. I will admit this gave me chills, John. Still . . . I don’t know. I have always had trouble with the idea of a Cento. Is just the choosing of lines to make a poem really a poem? I guess it is in a sense. After all, the poet is choosing the lines, and in the choosing is the meaning and emotion. This is a brilliant concoction of its type. It definitely says something, and it does give me chills. Still . . . I think I prefer John Stevens/Looker written poems, I’m afraid. That guy is absolutely brilliant as a poet. Still . . . experimentation is good.

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    • You know, I share your view of this form of poem, Thomas. The writer has limited materials – can select the pieces but not amend them, still less create them. Is it like sculpture with found objects? Anyway, the result is as much to do with chance as with the writer’s own imagination and thought. I indulged in it for fun and was surprised by the apparent success of the result, but it’s all a bit superficial really.

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  7. Fascinating! Glad I finally caught up with this, John. It LOOKS formless but the pacing of release follows a curve that we see in lyric, from impersonal to excessively personal and then a sense of release from the internal pressure of being autonomous, an opening . . . . In John’s final couplet, the “self” asserts itself (do NOT go gentle) in a special way: it asserts the “Truth” — notice the capital “t.’ AND the Truth’s own Story. Thus John’s so-called Cento participates in the old, old story of self-transcendence not as an oblivion of the self but of a partnership with a transcending other. i can hear Cynthia snarl from here, but I’m just saying . . . . . Bravo!

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    • Apologies Tom – I thought I had acknowledged your comment. Perhaps I meant to think further about your remarks first as they have led me to think about them again today. You won’t remember the poem now (a cento) but I have found your interpretation most interesting and illuminating. The fourteen lines do indeed move as you say from the impersonal to the excessively personal, with a release or an assertion of the self at the conclusion. You are very perceptive.

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  8. This is the best poetry I have read in awhile. Beautifully written!!!
    Lynda ❤

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  9. They are extraordinary lines, aren’t they? Once found and selected they seemed to me to speak as an independent poem. I’m pleased it worked for you too Lynda.

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  10. I love the flow and metaphor in this piece. Excellent!

    Lynda

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    • Thank you Lynda. Serendipity rules here.

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