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Cento: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms that you may or may not know. This week, we take a look at the cento, which is a form of found poetry that is entirely composed of lines and phrases from previously written poems.

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Cento Poems

At it's most basic level, the cento is a poem comprised of lines and phrases from other previously written poems. Many centos (including my example below) use the work of multiple poets. But there are some that focus on just one specific poet.

The cento can be a sort of ode to the poet and/or poets featured. Or it can be satire.

A Note on Plagiarism: Found poetry of any kind is always a little on the fun but potentially troubling side of literature. While many poets back to Homer and in contemporary times have written centos, it should always be made apparent that you are not passing someone else's work off as your own.

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Master Poetic Forms!

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Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

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Here’s my attempt at Cento:

And we let the fish go, by Robert Lee Brewer

A bestiary catalogs these hips are
big hips: My mother is a fish.

In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see
the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked, because we could not stop
for Death, beside the white chickens.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
“I am not a painter; I am a poet;
and I eat men like air.” I have gone
out, a possessed witch, even as I speak,
for lack of love alone–sweet to tongue
and sound to eye–and that has made
all the difference. They tell me you

are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas
lamps luring the farm boys. We wear the mask
that grins and lies, “The blind always come
as such a surprise.” Let us go then,

you and I: We real cool. We rage,
rage against the dying of the light.

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(As you can see, many great lines were referenced and turned into a new whole, fighting for a new meaning. 21 poets–including the title–were referenced: I wonder who can figure out the most in the comments below.)

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