Monday, June 21, 2010

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 I also like this article about found poetry.

Not one to stick with the rules, I wrote using adult titles on 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
So, do you want to play? What kind of poem will you assemble? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.


  1. Since I am in Scotland, thought I’d try an all Scots Cento:

    To see the stretch of my childhood,
    Go back in peace, take what you have gained,
    Where there is room , that water goes
    The wood was sere, the moon i’ the wane.

    And all that’s best of dark and bright,
    When larks rose on long thin strings of singing,
    Mid rustling leaves and fountains murmuring,
    The sky was yellow, the frost ringing.

    1. W. S. Graham, “Loch Thom”
    2. Edwin Morgan “The First Men on Mercury
    3. Norman Maccaig “Likenesses”
    4. James Hogg “Kilmeny”
    5. Lord Byron “She Walks in Beauty”
    6. Alastair Reid “Scotland”
    7. Sir Walter Scott “The Lady of the Lake
    8. Robin Robertson “Aberdeen

  2. Night Lines

    I lean back as the evening darkens and comes on,
    The curfew tolls the parting of day.
    It was a summer night, a close warm night.

    There is a NIGHT within the NIGHT.
    I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned,
    For time shall come that all shall changed be.
    O pour it in the sawdust glow of night,
    In silent night when rest I took.

    Make yourself up a cheering song of how
    Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
    merely bearing witness
    to what each morning brings to light.

    The day dawns with the scent of must and rain.
    I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
    Dawn rolled up slowly what the night unwound.
    This is the story.
    What could any of us ever do
    but ask for it?

    1. James Wright, "Lying in a Hammock..."
    2. Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
    3. William Wordsworth, "The Prelude"

    4. Frank Bidout, "To the Dead"
    5. Wilfred Owen, "Strange Meeting"
    6. Edmund Spenser, "Faerie Queene
    7. Jean Toomer, "Song of the Son"
    8. Anne Bradstreet, "Upon the Burning of Our House..."

    9. Robert Frost, "Directive"
    10. Edward Thomas, "Rain"
    11-12. Richard Wilbur, "Lying"

    13. Thomas Kinsella, "Mirror in February"
    14. Theodore Roethke, "The Waking"
    15. John Hollander, "By the Sound"
    16. Jorie Graham, "Reading Plato"
    17-18. Mike Doty, "Tiara"

  3. Oh, I love centos and wish I had time to play this week. Maybe while browsing at ALA, I'll try to create some from new fall titles!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. These cento lines are from Mother Goose and other poems in the oral tradition, using The Real Mother Goose and Rosemary Wells's two Mother Goose anthologies.

    Jack's Song

    Come with a whoop, come with a call,
    Wither dost thou wander?
    To see a fine lady upon a white horse
    When cloudy is the weather.

    For this is the house that Jack built.

    Lavender blue and rosemary green,
    How does your garden grow?
    With a silver nutmeg and a golden pear,
    But Thursday's child has far to go.

    For this is the house that Jack built.

    The Man in the Moon came down too soon,
    And a merry old soul was he,
    With silver bells and cockle-shells,
    And silver buckles on his knee.

    For this is the house that Jack built.

    Lines from:
    --"Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play"
    --"Goosey, Goosey Gander"
    --"Ride a Cock-horse"
    --"One Misty Moisty Morning"
    --"This Is the House That Jack Built"
    --"Lavender Blue"
    --"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary"
    --"I Had a Little Nut Tree"
    --"Monday's Child"
    --"This Is the House That Jack Built"
    --"The Man in the Moon"
    --"Old King Cole"
    --"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary"
    --"Bobby Shaftoe"
    --"This Is the House That Jack Built"

    --Kate Coombs

  6. Hi, Tricia,

    I just discovered your blog today and wish I'd known about it many Mondays ago! Like you, I enjoy cranking up a challenge, so I wrote a...

    Cento Cinquain

    Seeker of truth
    There is another sky
    And that has made all the difference
    To you

    Sylvia Plath “Daddy”

    e.e. cummings “Seeker of Truth”

    Emily Dickinson “There is another sky”

    Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”

    Walt Whitman “To You”

    Lisa Rowe Fraustino

  7. Interesting? I'll have to try to write one. Writing Cento poetry would be great to introduce to teens. Maybe, it would get them reading beyond the title.

    Mary Nida Smith

  8. I wrote a cento from the Frog Pond Journal. You can find it here:

  9. Listen Children

    Believing in sex and god and politics
    A people sometimes will step back from war.
    There are more like us. All over the world.
    Petals on a wet, black bough.

    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.
    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart
    where the world has not been broken.

    This is my letter to the world.
    When you keep something you are a keeper.
    The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

    Title – Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Lament”

    1. Miller Williams, “A Poem for Emily”
    2. Sheenagh Pugh, “Sometimes”
    3. Robert Bly, “People Like Us”
    4. Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”

    5. Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness”
    6. Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
    7. Billy Collins, “The Lanyard”
    8. Tagore, “Where the Mind is Without Fear”

    9. Emily Dickinson, “170”
    10. Carl Sandburg, “Finders Keepers”
    11. Naomi Shihab Nye, “Famous”

  10. I've written several centos, but I get worried that the authors might see them and be offended.

    Here's a link:

    The author is Toni Morrison