Cento: an original poem made using lines from the works of various poets.
Cento, sometimes called “patchwork poetry,” is well named because of the way the poem is assembled. (The term cento actually comes from the Latin word for patchwork.) As a quilt is pieced together from assorted patches of fabric, the cento poem is put together with lines from other sources.
To make a patchwork poem, each line must be taken from a different poem. When the lines are put together, they must make sense. The poem doesn’t have to rhyme, but rhyming adds a nice touch.
Here’s a rhyming cento by one of my former students, Rachel:
Round paradise is such a wall, (Monro)
And, hearing fairy voices call, (Webb)
And the streams run golden, (Lee)
Where there is no grass at all. (Stephens)
How to Write a Cento
- Read some poems. Take time to look through a few poetry books or explore some poetry online. Enjoy the poems.
- Get started. Find a line you especially like, and make that the first line of your patchwork poem. Write the poet’s last name in parentheses at the end of the line, as in Rachel’s example above.
- Add more lines. Select lines 2, 3, and 4 in the same way. Choose your lines carefully—your poem must make sense.
- Take the challenge!
- Try to make your poem rhyme.
- Make sure the beats sound right.
- Tenses should agree.
- Person should agree. In other words, pick lines that have been written either all in first person or all in third person.
- Give credit. At the end, list each poet’s full name. Include the name of the poem in quotes.
Then, come back later and leave a comment with examples of your cento poems!
Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.