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Discovering Poetry Styles: Cento

The Cento poem is beautifully unique just as it is something borrowed. Derived from the Latin word which translates as "patchwork" the poem is simply one poem (either rhymed or un-rhymed) in any variation of length that has lines from other poets not by self. This is a collage poem; you're taking a line from a poem here, there, and everywhere, while composing a masterpiece in and of itself. The cento does not have to be composed of lines from just one poem, or from one particular poet; the style, rhythm, syntax, and length of stanzas is completely up to you. The Latin poet Ausonius took a more concrete stance with composing a cento:

The pieces, he says, may be taken either from the same poet, or from several. The verses may be either taken in their entirety, or divided into two; one half to be connected with another half taken elsewhere. Two verses should never be used running, nor much less than half a verse be taken. In accordance with these rules, he made a cento from Virgil, the Cento Nuptialis.(Wikipedia)

In any case, the cento can follow your rules in which you desire, or you may take the Ausonius approach or totally wing it; but keep in mind that poetry should make sense and have a statement. Poetry should be the movement of something great, for it is an art. To just slap sentences together that were once part of something great shows the poem no justice, and you'll just be wasting your time.


Wolf Cento
by Simone Muench

Very quick. Very intense, like a wolf
at a live heart, the sun breaks down.
What is important is to avoid
the time allotted for disavowels
as the livid wound
leaves a trace leaves an abscess
takes its contraction for those clouds
that dip thunder & vanish
like rose leaves in closed jars.
Age approaches, slowly. But it cannot
crystal bone into thin air.
The small hours open their wounds for me.
This is a woman's confession:
I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me.

Sources: Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas, Larry Levis, Ingeborg Bachmann, Octavio Paz, Henri Michaux, Agnes Nemes Nagy, Joyce Mansour, William Burroughs, Meret Oppenheim, Mary Low, Adrienne Rich, Carl Sandburg

When creating a cento, it is pertinent to keep record of what lines you borrowed from where as a sort of bibliography so to speak. Give credit where credit is due; list the names of poets or poems in which your lines came from.

Writing Prompt
Cento 101: Pick a theme---any theme. It could be about nature, love, it doesn't matter. Find at least a handful of poets which poems are about that theme and create a cento that invokes a completely different subject matter.

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