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cento (SEN-to) noun

A literary work, especially a poem, composed of parts taken from works of other authors.

[From Latin cento (patchwork).]

"(John) Ashbery includes in Wakefulness one poem explicitly produced by collage, though not from his own writing, the cento `The Dong with the Luminous Nose.'"
Vernon Shetley; The New York School of Poetry; Raritan (New Brunswick, New Jersey); Spring 1999.

"Bernadette Mayer: I think poets are honored to be plagiarized. I know I am. There's a form called a cento, which is a poem made up entirely of lines from poems by other authors. Again, I see this as a way to share language and ideas, not necessarily a sneaky method to claim someone else's ideas as your own."
Daniel Kane; The Live Poet's Society; Ms (New York); Jun/Jul 2001.

Imagine that a poem is a quilt, each line made up of a patch from a different colorful cloth, and you'll have a good idea not only of what a cento looks like, but also of how the word cento evolved. Homer and Virgil have served as the sources for many a cento author. Nowadays, centos are typically humorous. Here is an anonymous poem titled Familiar Lines.

Before reading further, can you identify the poems each of the lines in the above mentioned cento is taken from? Here is the answer.

Here's a more ambitious attempt - a cento crafted from poems in many different languages.

This week we'll look at some other words to describe poetic forms.



If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

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