Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Poetry Stretch - Cento

Today's poetry stretch takes the form of thievery. Actually, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so let's think about this as an exercise in honoring our favorite lines of poetry. Today's exercise in mental gymnastics takes the form of the cento.
The cento is a poem made entirely of pieces from poems by other authors. Centos can be rhymed or unrhymed, short or long. 
(From The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms.)
You can read more about the cento at

Not one to stick with the rules, a few years ago I wrote a cento using titles from my bookshelf.
Nobody's Fool
He waits in the secret garden while his
love is lost to the housekeeping.
He knows the name of the rose,
and all creatures great and small.
He meditates on beauty,
and walks where angels fear to tread.
He is the constant gardener,
tending the family orchard while
the sun also rises.
He lives in a brave new world,
without pride and prejudice,
by a thread of grace.
He dreams of Gilead,
the wide Sargasso Sea and
going to the lighthouse,
but dreams blow away
on the shadow of the wind.
He views the world through
an imperfect lens, and knows it's all
one big damn puzzler, but
he believes that life is a miracle and
that the Lord God made them all.
Here are the books that make up this cento.
  1. Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
  2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  3. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  4. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  5. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  6. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  7. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
  8. The Constant Gardener by John le Carre
  9. The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve
  10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  13. A Thread of Grace by Maria Doria Russell
  14. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  15. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  16. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  17. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  18. An Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe
  19. One Damn Big Puzzler by John Harding
  20. Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry
  21. The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriot
You can also read the cento I wrote this month for Draw a Bird Day. It's called Thirteen Ways of Looking at Birds.

So, do you want to play? What kind of poem will you assemble? Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


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  2. This Cento is drawn from hymns we sang in church when I was a child.

    When the darkness deepens and
    shadows of the evening
    steal across the sky, consider
    all the things that bind our hearts.

    I'll be there early in the morning,
    when the roll is called.
    With my face to the rising sun, we will meet
    on that beautiful shore and
    study war no more.

    © 2016, Judith Robinson all right's reserved.

    Names of the hymns are in order:

    Abide with Me by Henry Francis Lyte 1847
    Now the Day is Over lyric by Sabine Baring-Gould 1868
    How Great Thou Art Carl Gustav Boberg 1859
    Blest Be the Tie That Binds by John Fawcett circa 1800
    When the Roll is Called Up Yonder by James M. Black 1893
    Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber circa 1800
    Let Us Break Bread Together Traditional African American Spiritual
    In the Sweet Bye and Bye lyrics by S. Fillmore Bennett 1868
    Down By the Riverside African American spiritual first published 1918