Centos after Robin Blaser – Jaclyn Piudik, Sue Chenette, Maureen Hynes and Steven Carter and a VISPO by Robert Frede Kenter

Introduction by Steven Carter

Our poetry group of four has been meeting since 2017, reading/studying Anne Carson (Float), R.M. Rilke (Duino Elegies), Jorie Graham (From the New World; Fast), Brenda Hillman (Extra Hidden Life Among the Days; Seasonal Works with Letter on Fire), Lisa Robertson (Starlings; 3 Summers) and, most recently, Robin Blaser (The Holy Forest).


Within The Holy Forest (Collected Poems), Blaser published twenty-six numbered poems he titled “Image-Nations,” written over an almost forty-year span, from 1962 to 2000.  During our readings, one of our group, Maureen Hynes, proposed that we write a cento drawn from lines found in Blaser’s “Image-Nations.” 


“where the words enter like footsteps”

a cento after Robin Blaser

that matter of language caught

bare feet slipped into the burning

the blue-heart at the centre

fills [our] hands with blood

& the language sticks to

a movement      fiery      turning     bits

                                                      & pieces

what if the body goes      the sense

things, ourselves among them

                       centrifugal, after our brief

sunset, and these shadows were

eyes      at the ends of the world

the moon drawn down      into our

absence suddenly melding with

geography      turns in the wind

to a luminous passage

then we, the apparatus, burned by night

separate, neither one nor the other

in the circularity of desire and thought

                                    we see through

the pleats of matter, and the folds of the soul

the participation is broken

in the original space that language loves, first heard


Cento, after Robin Blaser

an apple, a mirror, a skein of wool

like small poems read from
the horizon of every form where

the Sudden radiates     the work of it
like walking in and out of a star

I bent my head over the words
        the wing of the world showed

an apple, a mirror, a skein of wool

shining     into the eye
out of the stop     the shape

I make a boat out of an apple tree
                                 as if woven

the mirror in the garden doubles
the turn of the blue

something that exists        only
                             at the edge of

the words are left over          collapsed
an apple, a mirror, a skein of wool


(Two cento sonnets from a “corona” of fourteen sonnets; each sonnet uses the final line of the preceding sonnet as its first line. The source is Robin Blaser’s Image-Nation poems, The Holy Forest).

evolutionary love

the words do not end but come back
for the first woman our name was likely
the angelic spread of everyone’s thought
symbolizing the passionate loves and hates of
all the houses, filled with
wombs of coal    breasts of flame
what’s left of the angel
the archaic smile
an origin to which I return
like walking in and out of a star
I imagine evolutionary love
that wonderful note
sweetness in the pockets
forgotten miracles and money
the mechanic of the marvellous dreamed—

the Golden glass of magic grammar

the mechanic of the marvellous dreamed—
splendid gifts of guilt and wit
night and day, the miracle of
the strange ghostly
pastel, cactus flowering in the dry history, twining snakes in
a pale-green glass of magic
small plenitude and enchainment
the mechanic of splendour, sought
the guest of the window, the air
who, wary, only hinted to the Catholic boy about the Golden
glass of magic grammar
talked him into painting the disused laundry-room silver
which he said was ‘man’s fate’ right there in front of
the wandering meaning, the thorned acacia, nimbus of the sun—


the man with a heart in each hand   (or Blaser, At Heart)

(a cento composed of lines from Robin Blaser’s “Image-Nations 1 to 26”

I was once    another man’s heart
           strange unfamiliarity of the familiar
           a kind of floater in the language
           glass in an impossible body
           heart-shaped stone heart
           in a box
           the mechanic of splendour

a cosmos entered somehow (by ear?)
           the inner music has worn out
           the only heart is the movement of singing words
                          this fear and charm of words
           how can a body be made from the word?

                          (chicken coop cackle
                           that, so far as I’m concerned is where vocabulary begins

we see through a window cut out of a wall
           other step-stone holes in the world
           showed the holes in my breast to the star
           holes of intelligence supposed to be in the heart

inside the tower two loves seem present
           a part of love is always sticking the golden stems in the earth
           as if the moth-heart stayed at the real door-way

the man with a heart in each hand
           a still-life at the edge of the body erasing the body of those opposites
           he journeys the blue-heart at the centre of the flower

a man only hangs on the strings
           whirling drunken lives into a tense music
          in the drunkenness natural to me

the real condition of light drinks from the fingers
           taking leave at the point of the heart
           there is a wind in the heart

I am so separate a man these days
          I thought of the end of the end
          cutting the heart out to eat of it — eating the heart out
          invisible    invisible    invisible    heart    less
          (like Christmas trees, stripped of all adornment

the spheres, images of heart and head, exchange their fluids
the blood in my veins carrying life back to my heart
the marvellous clarity in the pool of the heart
           binding the heart like small poems read from vast stages

the man with a thousand hearts
          j’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais mille ans
           my thousand and one celebrations
           celebrate the sudden beauty that is not ourselves
           (I know no Beauty which is not permanent

                                                                                       – December 5, 2020


I studied with Robin (Romantics, Eliot, Pound) at Simon Fraser University in the late 1970s but was barely aware of his poetry. In the cento-forming process, I spent several hours re-reading his poems and copying lines that, for me, figured around the heart, in its many senses. During this time, I felt increasingly close with Robin, remembering fondly his thrillingly insightful classes. In my mind was my ongoing absurd experience of living with another’s heart, following a transplant five years ago. It was deeply moving for me to be absorbed in Robin’s “Image-Nations, “ to gather and experience these lines, drawn from 40 years and 400 pages of his writing, arrange themselves into a personal environment and expression for me. It is remarkable that this particular selected essence of Robin’s work is also an essence for me; there is much affinity. No lines are changed, none are in sequence – yet they seem to speak cohesively and convincingly. 

Steven Carter
December 2020


Jaclyn Piudik is the author of To Suture What Frays (Kelsay Books 2017) and three chapbooks,  the corpus undone in the blizzard (Espresso Chapbooks 2019), Of Gazelles Unheard (Beautiful Outlaw 2013) and The Tao of Loathliness (fooliar press 2005/8).  Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including New American Writing, Columbia Poetry Review, Burning House and Barrow Street.  She received a New York Times Fellowship for Creative Writing and the Alice M. Sellers Award from the Academy of American Poets. Piudik holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from the City College of New York, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto.  Tweets: @jpiudik

Maureen Hynes’s most recent book of poetry is Sotto Voce (2019), which was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Award and the Golden Crown Literary Award (U.S). Herfirst book of poetry won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award, and her fourth, The Poison Colour, was shortlisted for both the Raymond Souster and Pat Lowther Awards Her work has been included in over 25 anthologies, including The Best of the Best Canadian Poems in English (www.maureenhynes.com).

Sue Chenette, a classical pianist as well as a poet, grew up in northern Wisconsin and has made her home in Toronto since 1972. She is an editor for Brick Books, and the author of Slender Human Weight (Guernica Editions, 2009), The Bones of His Being (Guernica Editions, 2012), Clavier, Paris, Alyssum (Aeolus House, 2020), and the documentary poem What We Said (Motes Books, 2019), based on her time as a social worker in Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Steven Carter is an editor/publisher and independent researcher. Following undergraduate studies in Music and Art History at University of British Columbia, and English Literature at Simon Fraser University, where he studied with Robin Blaser, Roy Miki and Ralph Maud, Carter did graduate work in Comparative Literature and taught at SFU and Douglas College near Vancouver, Canada. Over the last decade he has participated in many poetry workshops with Hoa Nguyen, and has continued studies in contemporary philosophy, poetics and psychoanalytic literature.

Robert Frede Kenter: Banner Image: Cartographies, a manipulation, a digital art VISPO (c) 2021, Page Design, & Altered Photos. Tweets: @frede_kenter

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