Hot Shakespeare Summer, Act I
August, Versified

A Poem for #TheSealeyChallenge


Cento: Dear River Dear Creek Dear Damned


To answer your question, yes
My people are the people

Por el East River y el Bronx
My empire made me

Look out, but don’t mistake it for forward
When the ocean comes to harvest

The green drapery is like a sheet of water
In the afternoon I see myself at night

This is my box of twilight and inside 
No one knew or at least

It is possible to rest here
The cicadas are so loud and large

Each sun sinks itself
Wears white & turns

Dawn again. And this is what we wake to
The sky black with swans—

                Okay fuck it, I’m on one.


This is a cento of first lines from poems I read during #TheSealeyChallenge in 2020 and 2021. In a couple of cases, I changed the verb numbers to agree with the nouns. For the challenge, which was started by the poet Nicole Sealey, you read a collection of poetry a day for the month of August. I've done it a couple of years, and it's super fun. Starting August 1st, follow the hashtag #TheSealeyChallenge on social media, and get all kinds of great reading suggestions. More information here.

The Poetry Friday roundup for July 29 takes place at the blog of Marcie Flinchum Atkins. She's all about #TheSealeyChallenge, too!


Sources for the cento

Title: Kelly, Donika. “Hymn.” The Renunciations, Graywolf, 2021, p. 47. 

Line 1. Choi, Franny. “Afterlife.” Soft Science, Alice James, 2019, p. 20.

  1. Wilkinson, Caki. “Obstinate Gospel.” The Survival Expo, Persea, 2021, p. 49. 
  2. García Lorca, Federico. “Oda a Walt Whitman.” Poeta en Nueva York. 1940. La Moderna, 2018, p. 143.
  3. Akbar, Kaveh. “My Empire.” Pilgrim Bell, Graywolf, 2021, p. 24. 
  4. Hunt, Erica. “Instructions for the next chapter.” Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems, Nightboat, 2020, p. 183. 
  5. Francisco, Ariel. “Harvest Moon—The Tide Rises Almost to My Door.” A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship, Burrow Press, 2020, p. 37. 
  6. Trethewey, Natasha. “Mana Prieto.” Thrall. 2012. Mariner, 2015, p. 37. 
  7. Blanco, Richard. “Sitting on My Mother’s Porch in Westchester, Florida.” Looking for the Gulf Motel, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012, p. 27. 
  8. Salazar, C.T. “American Cavewall Sonnet [This is my box of twilight and inside].” American Cavewall Sonnets, Bull City, 2021, p. 5. 
  9. Gay, Ross. “ode to buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt.” Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015, p. 7. 
  10. Young, Al. “Poetry.” Geography of the Near Past, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976, p. 71. 
  11. VanderHart, Hannah. “Locusts or Complaint as Protest.” What Pecan Light, Bull City, 2021, p. 32. 
  12. Nezhukumatathil, Aimee. “Bengal Tiger.” Oceanic, Copper Canyon, 2018, p. 67. 
  13. Harvey, Yona. “Even Disasters.” Hemming the Water, Four Way, 2013, p. 35. 
  14. Murillo, John. “On Prosody.” Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, Four Way, 2020, p. 67. 
  15. Nguyen, Diana Khoi. “The Birdhouse in the Jungle.” Ghost of, Omnidawn, 2018, p. 41.
  16. Ginsberg, Aeon. [“Okay fuck it, I’m On One”]. Greyhound, Noemi, 2020, p. 21.

Photo by ST.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I've seen centos posted but didn't get that it was part of the challenge. Now I know and I am intrigued and think it's a good opportunity to read more collections of poetry. Thank you. You've provided a great list! I enjoyed your cento!

Hi, Janice! Thank you. The cento is not part of the challenge; I just did it for fun. I hope you'll post about the books you read. I'm always casting around for recommendations.

I can't help but chuckle at the end of the poem. That's kind of how I am feeling these days. I don't want to admit it, though. I also love this stanza: "Each sun sinks itself
Wears white & turns" and how it enjambs on "dawns again." What a wonderful way to synthesize the poems you read.

I love the twist at the end -- this is really rich and fantastic and inspires the reading of these poems for sure!

Margaret and Liz, thanks for dropping by! I just loved reading all those books last summer. This year, for various reasons, I've had many of those "f-it" kinds of days, and so Aeon Ginsburg's lines (the last in the poem here) was really appealing to me.

What a cool thing to do with some of the poems you read last year! I'm so glad you've done The Sealey Challenge before! So cool!

Hi, Marcie! Thanks. Last year on Twitter I posted about the books I read every day, but I think I'll shake it up this year and do something different. I have two days to figure out what!

Beautiful imagery that you connected to the photo. I'm so intrigued by the line "The green drapery is like a sheet of water" -- I want to reverse the simile after gazing at the photo, but it so uniquely turns in this poem!

Thank you, Patricia! Your comment is so interesting as I hadn't even connected the green drapery to the photo; I'd been looking for a pic that had a creek/river. Poems are always a collaboration between the writer(s) and the reader, and your observation highlights that! I can see how the reverse metaphor would work.

Susan, this centro is so beautifully created. The photo blends beautifully with the lines. I can imagine that this piece really made you puzzle this poem together.

Hi, Carol. I appreciate your kind words! I took the photo in the early spring at Greenwich (CT) Audubon Center. The greens were really vibrant back then. I enjoy looking for just the right picture for a poem.

OOOOH. I LOVE the idea of writing a cento out of poems read during the Sealey Challenge. (Which, btw, I'd never heard of until recently, but I'm going to try it this year.) This is fantastic. Thank you, Susan. You're a constant source of fresh ideas and inspiration!

Aw, Laura, thanks for your kind words! I really enjoy the Sealey Challenge and the online enthusiasm for talking about poetry during August. Yesterday I did a big library run in a neighboring town that has a substantial poetry collection, so I can't wait to arrange my books for the week.

Susan, I love your list of books and as well the way you layered these lines, each one leading to the next but leaving it to do its own work. Gorgeous. I failed miserably at the challenge last year so I'm not going to participate "officially" this year, as much as I encourage others!

Heidi, hello! Thanks for dropping by and for your encouragement. I have my first seven books ready to go for the challenge, and I'd be happy re-reading the ones from the cento above, too. I try to start each morning with reading in August, even if I have to get up a little early!

I like your cento and I love the title, and this part to:
"Each sun sinks itself
Wears white & turns

Dawn again."

I was getting ready to release my husband from bondage–isolating the past 2 weeks due to covid, when he tested positive today due to rebound we believe like Biden's. Your poem spoke to my state of mind… Thanks Susan, and good luck with the challenge!

Thanks so much, Michelle! The same happened to me with Covid. Ugh! My sympathies.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)