Cento? Can Do!

broken pavingsThis week’s creative writing prompt involves us taking a very close look at the work of writers we admire – and (kind of) copying it to make something new.

We’re talking poetry here – I’m asking you to write a Cento. The word comes from the Latin for patchwork, so I think that gives you a clue as to where this is going?

A Cento poem uses words and lines from other poets’ work to make a new piece. But before you fall off your chair in horror at me suggesting you copy another writer’s work, let me explain.

In a Cento, you create a new poem, from existing ones, line by line – and then you acknowledge where you found your material. This isn’t the same as plagiarism and passing off another writer’s work as your own (yes, I know it is a thin line, but…).

This exercise is about appreciating small parts, just phrases or single lines, of different poems, and stitching them together, patchwork-style, to make a completely new poem.

A Cento poem is a great way to inspire you to do some close reading and understand the musicality of another writer’s work – and to create new meaning by putting unexpected lines together to good effect.

I enjoyed creating the example I’m giving you here. It is one of the poems included in my pamphlet submission which was commended in the Fool for Poetry Competition (Munster Literature Centre) recently. I include it here just to show what you can do with a patchwork of other writers’ lines…

When you have put together your Cento, make sure to read it aloud to hear the rhythm – and don’t forget to record your source material. It can end up being in any style or format, your choice.

Cento:  Darkness and I are One
by Louise G Cole
The heart’s impulse is to cherish
But I know that love’s doorway to life
Is the same doorway everywhere,
Your secrets all in view.

I, in my intricate image, stride on two levels
Clutching the certainty that once we flew
Drinking the sea and eating the rock
Our love is remembered even in the sky

I have been one acquainted with the night
The dark cloths of night and light and the half-light
A burst of sudden wings at dawn
Into the peace of wild things

But now the afternoon is convent blue
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
As if we burnished our friendship, polished it,
So tight-fisted, such economies of light

The sun a liquid furnace in my mouth
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming
The river flows backwards, uphill to my door
To steal the light and hide it in a flower

So many reminders of my mortality
With half words whispered low
Years to grow and seconds to crash
Had I not seen the sun, I could have borne the shade.

Found line by line in the words of: Francis Ledwidge; Carol Ann Duffy; Patrick Kavanagh; Patrick Kavanagh; Leonard Cohen; Dylan Thomas; Derek Mahon; Ted Hughes; Thomas Moore; Robert Frost; WB Yeats; Francis Ledwidge; Wendell Berry; Rebecca Farmer; Seamus Heaney; Gillian Clarke; Eavan Boland; Afric McGlinchey; William Shakespeare; Jane Clarke; Alice Oswald; Billy Collins; Robert Graves; Robert Macfarlane; Emily Dickinson.  

Click for more info about what I’m doing here. Feel free to call back next week for another creative writing prompt/exercise. There’s a new one posted every Wednesday at 5pm, Dublin time.