P&W Prompt: Cento

In an effort to get caught up with the P&W writing prompts, I’m going to be doing double time for the next couple of weeks.  Fortunately for me, the next prompt in line is a really fun one:

The cento, whose name is derived from a Latin term meaning “patchwork,” is a form of fragmented poetry originating in the third century consisting of lines taken from poems written by other poets. Contemporary centos often offer a humorous juxtaposition of contrasting images, ideas, and tones. Read centos written by John Ashbery and Simone Muench, and then try writing your own, sampling verses from diverse time periods, styles, and subject matter, and citing your sources at the end.

This prompt is reminiscent of an early prompt from 2011 that resulted in this little beauty that ends with none other than a walrus penis!  When you’re putting a poem together from preexisting lines, there’s no telling where you’ll go 🙂  Here’s what I came up with (sources of original lines are listed below, no changes were made to any of the lines – including capitalization and punctuation.  The title is also taken from a line in Ginsberg’s “America.”):




I did not come here to sing a blues.

But peace, like a poem,

Because the world is at the window

with the sound of occasional sirens

lies always between a failure and a dream.


We must be slow and delicate; return

American history has a way of making you feel

that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Because I am a woman

Legged under the fire rays of noon —


I worry it is.

Yeah. I would like to believe you.

But we are not talking about belief.

I couldn’t care less why anyone would want it.

I came to make the sky a garden.


Allen GinsbergDanez SmithDenise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, David Roderick, Kenneth Patchen, Gregory Corso, William E. Stafford, Alice Notley, Juan Felipe Herrera, Juliana SpahrJames Baldwin, Hayan Charara

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