As a tribute to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and in light
of everything going on in the country, I thought it was important
to write this special Incentovise column, consisting of
word-centos of Langston Hughes’ “I, Too,” Gwendolyn Brooks’
“Riot,” June Jordan’s “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.” and
Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”
A word-cento is one of my invented forms of poetry. It is a
rearrangement of the words of a poem by a single author.
I try to exhaust every single word of the poem (though lately
I’ve only been doing some). I lose the structure of the original
poem, do not position any two unique words next to each other,
and the resulting poem is a response to or a continuation of the
These word-centos were composed while listening to Jimi HendrixLive
at N.Y. Café Au Go Go, Jimi Play The Blues 68 and
Jimi Hendrix – In Sessions (with Stephen Stills) Full Album (1968).
THE AMERICA OF AMERICA IN ME
(a word-cento of Langston Hughes’
“I, Too” *)
I, too, eat America in America in America.
I, too, laugh at me.
I, too, laugh at America in the America of
the America I eat.
And am ashamed—
at how I laugh and eat America.
And nobody’ll see the America of America in me
but they’ll see the America I eat—
and they’ll see the America I laugh at
be-come the America I laugh at
in the America I am
and comes to be the America they’ll laugh at
and the America they’ll eat
and nobody’ll see
in the America of the America
and laugh at…
And nobody’ll see
the kitchen table.
The kitchen table, too.
* Original poem by Langston Hughes
from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes,
published by Knopf and Vintage Books (1994).
Reprinted from Poets.org.
[Note: Technically, “come” should be “comes,”
as the word “come” isn’t in the poem. Also, I
consider hyphenated words to be two words, not
one word, and hyphens to count as punctuation
when it comes to word-centos.]
AMERICA, WHY DO WE FORGET SKY/LIES
IN BOXES AMONG BOXES
(a word-cento of Gwendolyn Brooks’
“Riot (three Parts)” *)
Whitebluerose virginity, Law,
boxes darkness in darkness,
boxes loud white sky in
breath below breath
PHILOSOPHER GUNS treat
boxes with boxes,
boxes darkness in darkness—
Own Motherwoman Gray,
Poor windsweep in the sky!
Sky touched sky!
Breath breathed on breath…
a beautiful fire of broken exit,
ashes over beautiful music.
PHILOSOPHER GUNS treat
boxes with boxes.
Why do boxes shelf boxes in
exhaustive interruption renewed watermirrors in Keeper-
purrs men— Joy, explode yourselves again!
again, in boxes, chains of boxes…
you would rattlecrunch in to ashes
from posts shining passion,
not-to-end lies but to make them mute
to what you do
and what you say
in the Span of a Poem!
Rumor Poem People, purr,
but no People stir
in boxes who shelf boxes
in boxes over boxes, purrs
held America down
and breathed away
its whitebluerose virginity, Law,
in boxes: and from boxes, Law,
purrs to peer
out darkness in to darkness,
Rumor Poem People, purr!
peer outdarknessintodarkness, blackless darkness
and forget why
boxes peer out boxes in to boxes—
and shelf themselves—
explode in to America!
* Original poem by Gwendolyn Brooks from
Blacks (Third World Press, 1987). Reprinted
from The Poetry Foundation.
[Note: The words “rattle” and “crunch” are used
in the original poem, but I think Brooks would
have approved of “rattlecrunch,” so I made it a
Frankenword. I also combined “out,” “darkness,”
“in,” “to,” “darkness” to get
(a word-cento of June Jordan’s
“In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.” *)
Milkland honey U.S.A.
born from rape onward shells
lunging darkness, burn bullets,
bullets explode into springtime,
greed terrorizing more and more
sky of you, sky of I,
sky of yesterday growing
raving sleep we share
the shorewashed shells
of you and I
to pull up tomorrow
rainy from insanity,
we mourning men in afternoon sky
men who shelter mercy
between up and down
sky of yesterday, sky of tomorrow,
sky of death,
running from sky,
into sky of you
and sky of I,
you and I
in the sky
burn bullets, bullets of you, bullets of I,
we bullets rip sky,
milkland honey freedom sky,
freedom terrorizing sky,
deadly America sky
more deadly than you or I,
who sleep up and down
* Original poem by June Jordan
from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems
of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005) and
from The Norton Anthology of African American
Reprinted from The Poetry Foundation.
(word-cento of Maya Angelou’s
“Still I Rise” *)
Diamonds laugh history’s pain.
Diamonds rise and rise
in the tide.
Diamonds may cut air
but broken soulful
in the twisted moons
rooted in teardrops, cries
and out hope—
and out dream—
not broken down
but broken up,
with diamonds of
I in the bitter air falling
but not falling—
like broken diamonds’ cut-air surprise,
gold-mines of hatefulness
in the tide of hope
diamonds out of
hope still hope—
a dream still in dream,
leaping from leaping
with diamonds, hatefulness
diggin’ history’s pain,
but diamonds dance daybreak
and laugh up diamonds
like history in pain.
* Original poem by Maya Angelou
from And Still I Rise (Random House,
1978). Reprinted in Poets.org.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Trish Hopkinson for sharing the
links to the poems on her excellent site, which inspired
the idea for this special column.
Joshua Corwin, a Los Angeles native, is a neurodiverse, 2-time Pushcart Prize-nominated, 1-time Best of the Net-nominated poet and Spillwords Press Publication of the Month winner. His debut poetry collection Becoming Vulnerable (2020) details his experience with autism, addiction, sobriety and spirituality. He has lectured at UCLA, performed at the 2020 National Beat Poetry Festival and Mystic Boxing Commission Festival of Sound and Vision, read with 2013 US Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco, Michael C. Ford, S.A. Griffin, Ellyn Maybe, among others. His Beat poetry is to be anthologized alongside Ferlinghetti, Hirschman, Ford, Coleman and Weiss late this year (Sparring Omnibus, Mystic Boxing Commission). He hosts the poetry podcast “Assiduous Dust,” writes the weekly Incentovise column for Oddball Magazine and teaches poetry to neurodiverse individuals and autistic addicts in recovery at The Miracle Project, an autism nonprofit. Corwin’s collaborative collection A Double Meaning, with David Dephy, is currently seeking publication. He also has forthcoming collaborative poetry projects with Ellyn Maybe including Ghosts Sing into the World’s Ear (Ghost Accordion series 1st Wave, Mystic Boxing Commission). Corwin is editing and compiling Assiduous Dust: Home of the OTSCP, Vol. 1 (forthcoming April 2021, TBD) featuring 36 award-winning poets, all demonstrating a new type of found poem (OTSCP) he invented.