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Friday, May 11, 2012

NYT's Two Cents on the Cento

The New York Times blog has published a cento by David Lehman, plus an explanation of what a cento is (in their words, "A cento is a collage-poem composed of lines lifted from other sources -- often, though not always, from great poets of the past. In Latin the word cento means ''patchwork,'' and the verse form resembles a quilt of discrete lines stitched together to make a whole. The word cento is also Italian for ''one hundred,'' and some mosaic poems consist of exactly 100 lines culled by one poet from the work of another to pay tribute to him or her").

The Invention of the ZeroIn this age of the sampling crazy, the cento suddenly seems new again. A poem that samples from other people's words (though not from poems) that I particularly love is Richard Kenney's  astonishing "A Colloquy of Ancient Men" from his book The Invention of the Zero. In this long poem pieces of quotations from Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Charles Darwin, Joseph Conrad, Isaac Newton, Max Planck, Herman Melville, Neils Bohr, Fred Hoyle, Mark Twain, and a few others are juxtaposed to great effect. (Here I am recommending yet another intertextalization of poetry and science. At least I know what I like!)

So, anybody up for a cento or another collage-like piece of writing? It's a different creative muscle to stretch.

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