About Me

Artist & writer with the soul of a swing-dancing Pony Express rider. Hybrid poetics. Motivations: consumerism, feminism, environmental issues. Novelist. Voice actor. Robots fascinate. Occasional posts on fragrance-free wellness.
Paper Woman: Centos
You never know what can happen when a person cracks open a book. I didn’t know Rae Armantrout’s New Poems section in Partly would consum...

Paper Woman: Centos

You never know what can happen when a person cracks open a book. I didn’t know Rae Armantrout’s New Poems section in Partly would consume me for the next year.

I had the good fortune to meet Rae Armantrout at a Seattle poetry event in September 2017. I purchased her book, Partly, and challenged myself to ask her to sign it. Meeting someone who is an expert at what they do can be intimidating! Because of my history in Los Angeles, CA, Rae shared a humorous L.A. story with me. It was brief, visual, and revealing, more so for me than her, I think. All I could say at the time was “how great that story was for me to hear.”

Rae’s story revealed a true L.A. cliché which caused me to reflect on my earlier life as a thing (model as thing and actress as exploitable thing). In addition to the story, her poems inspired me to contemplate thingness more deeply.

On process: While reading Rae’s book, I notice the recurrence of thing. Wouldn’t it be interesting to collect all of those “things” from the New Poems section and see what this cento might reveal? Her poem “If” created the spark for this activity. “Pumpkin” pointed me to and connected: thing, stuff, woman.

What this means is that I harvested 101 lines from her works and compiled them in random-yet-constrained ways as their own poems. They’re called centos. I created a 56-page collection of cento poems and procedures based on harvested lines from Rae Armantrout’s “New Poems” in Partly.

This kind of poetry is an uncreative act yet very creative for the reader’s interpretation. Initially, I used an abecedarian technique (harvesting all a’s, b’s, then c’s, etc.), while maintaining an objective distance, I hoped to find a chance reflection of who I was as memoir. I let the process determine the content.

Here are samples from the four sections: Abecedarian, Shape Dictates Content, a Chakra Dialogue, and Mesostics.

Section One, an Abecedarian sample:
Thingy Thing ABCs

As if waking up,
an insult
as if
and asks directions
as if;
and we don’t know
America doesn’t want to hear you
audience members.


But I’ve got bigger things
before an audience
but I’ve played one
but I am reckless,
but it’s one thing



In the Shape Dictates Content Section, I constructed a woman made of paper slips as an aleatory operation. For this technique, I cut sheets of numbered lines into paper slips and created a shape of a woman. A shipping invoice just happened to be on the counter, so I included it. Then, I transcribed lines from photos of chance poems within the shape.

Rae’s lines “hollow bones” and “into topiary” inspired the shape of a woman as thing, a thing made of words. A fierce paper woman.

Section Two, Shape Dictates Content:
25. when it was that easy

to be cool.
The models
served as coq-au-vin.

replicate a woman.
less thingy,
of inattention
or absorption

the punctum.

as if;
That she needs to tell
using the names

of things
“How you create
shoulders of the road—

is to be choosy.
with turning experience
into topiary

“Look at me!”
of itself,
“The traumatized rats practiced excessive self-grooming.”

Additional sample from Section Two:
Paid Invoice

“How you create
using the names
of itself,
the world absorbs

“The traumatized rats practiced excessive self-grooming.”
an insult

invoice date
ship to

Film is enough
for penmanship
is a form of self-grooming.

My great grandma, Minnie, taught me about quilt making. Pieces of fabric from many sources, some precious, others only scraps, all stitched together. I remember tying short pieces of yarn which connected the patchwork top through the batting to the green cotton bottom. I cherish this completed quilt and the time with my great grandmother.

I’m tying together words found in Rae’s poems with routes rambled through in my mind. First, poems using abecedarian structure, then aleatory, followed by a dialogue, and finally mesostic-generated structures. From a conceptual perspective, I’ve shaped the literal lines made of paper into a woman and then wanted to go deeper into what might’ve caused the body and spirit distress with some layers of hope for healing. So, via general Google image searches, I turned to chakra generalities based on my lifelong interest in meditation.

Section Three, a Chakra Dialogue excerpt (CAPs as one voice/lower-case as the other):

If clear yellow petals

is to be choosy.
and think about my choices.

less thingy,

is a form of self-grooming.

which no longer

of distraction’s

of itself,

such anachronistic clothes

Section Four, Mesostics (note spine words are bolded). What is a mesostic? See UPenn’s page inspired by John Cage’s process  (http://mesostics.sas.upenn.edu/about.html):

Another sample from Section Four:

    thingy things of appearance
                    of distractions

of inattention or absorption
                      of past itself

                                    past of woman
thingy minus things or

                             of past

                         “look at me!” less thingy, minus

     things most of what
                they do
                        of things minus

of appearance
            or absorption
of things of itself,

                        a woman.

During the transcribing process (all lines were first curated in the order they occurred in her book using at least one line from each poem), I noticed how my personal notations in the margins fit the thingness within many of these poems; as often in life, we find familiar connections in disparate pieces. I found a version of myself within these lines.

My quest was to see how my poetry Magic 8-Ball conveyed a life reflection on being female. Am I the thing I think I was, or something else? Even a brief shared story can startle one’s memory and connect personal puzzle pieces. Rae’s L.A. anecdote did this for me. Then, her printed poetic lines reinforced how we as women experience the world as creatives with a perspective shaped by many variables including gender.

Thingy things.

Popular Posts


Contact Me