Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cento Ascending

We Write Poems
gave a prompt last week of writing a Cento - a mash-up poem made up of other people's work (with credit given, of course.)  Interestingly, We Write Poems' ground rules stated that the lines in our new poems had to come from works that were not from poetry, but they could take on whatever form we wished, provided we used complete sentences and used only one source per poem.

A few years ago, I actually started playing with this form, but done in a slightly different manner:  The Cento was to be written as a quatrain, with four separate lines from four different poems, with the accreditation to follow (underneath the poem) in subscript.

Like this one, for example:

At the Laundromat with Walt Whitman

Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in an hour.
If you do not say any thing how can I say any thing?
Oh let there be nothing on earth but laundry
and below them the filthy sneakers, shifting, shifting.

Allen Ginsberg, A Supermarket in California; Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself, #49; Richard Wilbur, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World; Catherine Doty, Momentum

In any event, here's a few attempts at the Cento, per the instructions from We Write Poems.


It was a big bat.
What does it mean, Professor?
It is the Count.  But…

Dracula – Bram Stoker

My Mom Makes Weird ‘K’ Noises

It didn’t sound kuplink!
He heard a noise from over a stump and thought,
“That is my mother walking along.”
kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk….

Blueberries for Sal – Robert McCloskey

Sevenling (At a Lonely Crossroads on the Edge of a Prairie)

But this ain’t the road to Canada,
this is the road to Pittsburgh
and Chicago.

Did this mean I should at last go on my pilgrimage
on foot
on the dark roads around America?

The greatest ride of my life was about to come up…

On the Road – Jack Kerouac


  1. You really came up with some interesting centos! My favorite is the one from Kerouac's words!

  2. Thank you for your kind words. (And, the Kerouac one is one of my favorites, too - blushblush!)

  3. I like all of them, but my favorite is the Walt Whitman piece. I really like the idea of meeting Whitman in a laundrymat with all of those sneakers shifting around. And thanks for all of these samples, they are fun, aren't they?


  4. Thanks, Elizabeth, And yes - this prompt has been great fun! ☺

  5. this is all completely new to me. What fun.
    One could play and play and never get anything 'grown-up' done. Can I join the club?

    I also enjoyed your take on the magpie, turning it into a children's roundelay.

    Lovely blog you have here.

  6. Friko - thank you so much! I'd love to see what you would do with a Cento (in either format.) ☼

  7. You've worked some magic here in these centos. I'm giggling at the idea of Whitman putting his washing in a machine and watching it go round.

  8. Thanks, Viv! Isn't that a crazy visual - Whitman sitting next to you at a laundromat, watching dirty sneakers tumble around?

  9. Where do you hide all those guys?
    Or is it a big surprise,
    When they all fall from a book,
    When curious readers stop to look?

    One big name after another,
    Name dropper you are, oh brother!
    I know it's all lighthearted fun,
    And there's a style for everyone,

    Kerouac,Bram Stoker,Whitman too,
    Even some from lightverse,(you),
    I am impressed,as much as I can be,
    When you made me smile at poetry.

  10. Thanks so much, Dan.
    I just do what I can. ☼

  11. I loved all but that Kerouac is my favourite!

    Here is mine:

    musical whirlwind

  12. Gautami - thank you so much! ☼