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The Wonderful Cento Or A Collection of Cool Clauses

For the letter C, I bring to you the classy and classic cento, which is basically a collection of cool clauses! As always, I also bring you poetry books from the letter C as I continue participating in National Poetry Month.

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The Cento

The term cento comes from the Latin word for patchwork and is perfectly suited to this ancient poetic form(dating from the  3rd or 4th century A.D), which is literally a patchwork of lines from various sources. Just like a quilt is sewn together using assorted pieces of fabric, the cento is put together with lines and phrases from other poems (or articles, books, etc).

So at its most basic, the cento is a poem comprised of lines and phrases from other previously written poems. These lines can be from poems of multiple poets, or across poems of a single poet. You can choose to make your cento a homage to the original poet(s) or take a humorous slant or take it in any direction you please.

Always ensure you credit the original poets.

So How Do You Write a Cento

  1. Read
    • Select other poems (or you could choose other written works too). 
      • Maybe you have a few favorite poems already.
      • Or you admire a specific poet’s work (maybe a few poets)? Select a few of their poems.
      • Or pick random poems.
    • Now take your time to read the selected poems. If you have a pre-planned theme for your cento, keep that in mind for it will help in the next step.
  2. Pick the Lines
    • Now that you have read the poems, pick one to two lines from each of them. One tip here is to not take too long selecting these lines. Trust your instincts and pick the first one or two you line from each poem. And yes, if you had a theme, that will help you in the selection process!
    • Note that there is no set number of lines needed for a cento. You can have as few as five or six, or even a hundred lines, if you so choose!
    • Also remember, that there are no rules for rhyme or meter. All of this is left to you – the poet, or more accurately, the patchwork creator. So you don’t need to worry about whether your selected lines rhyme or have similar meter
  3. Now Put Them Together
    • Feel free to arrange these original lines in anyway you want.
    • Check additional tips below for more ideas and inspiration
  4. Don’t Forget to Credit the Original Poets/Authors 
    • You can choose to include just the names of the poets for each line, either at the end of the lines themselves, or at the end of the poem. You can include the names of the poems too; or, if you have a longer poem, you could skip the poem names and maybe have your readers guess the poems they come from.
    • Or you could list out the poets and the names of the poems where each line comes from at the end in a list format (this works better for shorter centos).

Additional Tips

  • You could introduce an enjambment or add punctuations (which can sometimes change the meaning of the original, as we know).
  • Or even braid the lines from different poems in interesting ways to create a whole new poem (well, you are doing it already, but even more so!)
  • Put contradicting lines next to one another to add an element of surprise, or use lines that build upon each other to enhance an emotion.
  • Remember: while you can even choose to split the line from one poem and insert lines or phrases from another poem, you cannot add your own words. For example, you could do something like this:
    • “I shall be telling this – ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,’ with a sigh”
    • “I shall be telling this with a sigh” comes from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken
    • ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings’ comes Shelley’s Ozymandias

Make it Extra

While there is no rule for rhyme, rhythm, or meter in a cento, you can add to the challenge for yourself regardless of the selected lines. Here are some fun ways to take the cento challenge one step (or many steps) further!

  • Try to make your poem rhyme!!
  • Work to ensure it looks like a single narrator, or narrative.
  • Try to make it sound rhythmic.
  • Pick poems of varied styles (by mood, form, or any other way), across different periods (from ancient to contemporary), or even from different languages (you could translate them into one common language if you wish).

Further reading, references, and h/t:

My Cento

While I initially thought of picking lines from poems with titles from the letter ‘C’ or written by poets with names from the letter ‘C,’ I ended up taking a different route. I am using Maya Angelou’s poems as it is her birthday on the 4th of April!

Woman, Me…
I’ll tell you what I know –
I have a certain way of being in this world,
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.
Make room for me.
I’m a woman, phenomenally!
You may write me down in history!

~Vidya Tiru @ LadyInReadWrites

Credit: All the lines (except the title) are from various popular poems by Maya Angelou. Feel free to add the names of the poems they are from in the comments if you wish to guess (or you already know them!)

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patchwork quilt of a flower with the title the cento poetic form

The Books

A Child’s Book of Poems

Title: A Child’s Book of Poems
Author: Various
Illustrator: Gyo Fujikawa
Publishers: Union Square Kids; First Edition (September 1, 2007) (first published in 1969)
Genre: Children’s Poetry (3 – 7 years, and up)
Source: Library copy

Get it here: Amazon

Description

William Blake, Kate Greenaway, Emily Dickinson: the writers in this charming anthology of 200 poems—first published in 1969—are among literature’s most beloved. And Gyo Fujikawa’s appealing illustrations depict children of all races sweetly interacting, as well as an engagingly rendered menagerie of animals and the natural world in all its wonderment. Among the verses that children will love are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells,” Lewis Carroll’s “The Melancholy Pig,” and Eugene Fields’ “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” along with proverbs, limericks, nursery rhymes, and folk songs.

A Child’s Garden of Verses 

Title: A Child’s Garden of Verses 
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Illustrator: Gyo Fujikawa
Publishers: Union Square Kids (September 1, 2007) (originally publised in 1885)
Genre: Children’s Poetry (3 – 7 years and up)
Source: Library

Get it here

Description

Originally published in 1885, A Child’s Garden of Verses has served as a wonderful introduction to poetry for each new generation. Stevenson’s beloved poems celebrate childhood in all its complexity and joy, from the sunny pleasures of “At the Seaside,” to the imaginative musings of “Foreign Lands” to the playful, ever-popular “My Shadow.” Of the many available editions, Gyo Fujikawa’s is one of the sweetest and most personal. Illustrated in 1957, it was her very first book—and she evokes a simpler, more innocent time that should profoundly appeal to today’s audiences. It is a gift that every child will treasure.

My Thoughts on Both of Them

Both these books are, well, just perfect.

The selection of poems is excellent, and I delighted in each and every one of them in both collections. And what can I say about Fujikawa’s illustrations?! Beyond amazingly beautiful. The little details in each add to the joy of reading the poems themselves, and I can spend hours both reading the poems over and over again, as well as simply gazing at the artwork (frame worthy art at that)

A must have in any home library! I will be adding these to my personal library and more books by Fujikawa as well.

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear readers, have you read the featured collections of children’s books? Do you have any similar recommendations for me? I would love to hear from you about them. Will you attempt the cento poetic form (or have you done so before)? If you plan to, do share it with me. I would love to read your cento.

Previous posts for this challenge are in links below.

Day 0 Day 1 – A Day 2 – B Day 3

Linking up to BlogChatterA2ZBlogging from A-to-Z April ChallengeNaPoWriMo, and the Ultimate Blog Challenge

7 thoughts on “The Wonderful Cento Or A Collection of Cool Clauses

  1. This is so interesting. I had never heard of a cento poem. I belong to a conversation group and we are often asked to recite or create and read a poem. I have aphasia which is a language disorder and it is really hard to come up with the words I want at the time. I think a cento poem would work well for me. I too am going to try one with poems by Maya Angelou in honor of her birthday.

  2. Hi Vidya, Cento is one of my favourites; it’s fun to play with, right? Well, I loved the patch up of Ozymandias and The road not taken! The tips are great for someone who is new to Cento.

    I look forward to your posts as poetry is my obsession and indulgence. I’m also participating in NaPoWriMo along with the #BlogchatterA2Z challenge!

    http://www.promisingpoetry.org

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