Playing with Form: The Cento

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Publication News

The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

Two centos from my manuscript, I Am Speechless, have been selected for publication in We Dissent. We Resist. We Persist: An Anthology of Our Human Rights to be published by Flower Song Press in 2024. “The Poem of Your Body” was written after the May 2022 leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion to rescind Roe v. Wade; “Monster” was written on the day the Oklahoma state legislature passed a law banning abortion at conception.

What is a cento? It’s a form of found poetry made up of quotations from other works.

From Wikipedia:

A cento is a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors((en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cento_(poetry))) in a new form or order. The Latin term cento derives from Greek κέντρων (gen. κέντρωνος), meaning “‘to plant slips’ (of trees).” A later word in Greek, κεντρόνη, means “patchwork garment.” According to Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White, “A cento is therefore a poem composed of odd fragments.” Think of it as a kind of patchwork quilt.

My two centos are fourteen lines each—so a nod to the sonnet—and consist of lines borrowed from the work of twenty-eight different poets including Gwendolyn Brooks, Terrance Hayes, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Mark Strand, and William Carlos Williams.

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