Meet the Cento
The Cento is a collage poem (cento in Italian literally means ‘patchwork’) made entirely of lines lifted from other poems, often from a variety of authors. This juxtaposition of voices often highlights interesting contrasts and creates unique conversations between poets and poems no longer bound by time, space, or original context. When taken to its extreme, this collision of verse can reach the point of absurd hilarity, as in John Ashbery’s ‘The Dong With the Luminous Nose’.
Key Features of the Cento
Content: Contains only lines borrowed from other poems and poets.
An Original Cento
The Sky Gave Me Its Heart
The sky gave me its heart
No one believed what happened
Will they wake with their hearts wanting to play,
fallen Phoenix—that sang out from the fire of union
There are wars where no one marches with a flag,
so I run to my garden and start digging potatoes
with such love and power
Most carry their values and knowledge in a jug
I guess I should not have jumped naked
desperate, in need of
a blessed gratitude
and even a man can become
A note on my original cento
I chose to create my poem from a single anthology: Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, edited and translated by Daniel Ladinsky. From this anthology, I decided to borrow one line from each of the twelve featured poets in sequential order. The line number from each line in the original poem coincides with the number of the line used in my cento. For example, the third line of Rumi’s ‘The Way Wings Should’ became the third line of my own poem, and so on through the poem’s twelve lines. My cento features one line from each of these poets (listed in order): Rabia, St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hafiz, St. Catherine of Siena, Kabir, Mira, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Tukaram.
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