Sheila-Na-Gig online


What about the Cento?

In all my years of teaching and reading poetry, I have somehow never heard of the cento– although surely I’ve read some without knowing, and a quick search on the form lists many well known poets who have written them.                                                                                A few poets recently sent me centos with lines culled from Rattle and Spillway and other journals I admire, and I enjoyed these poems but just didn’t know what to do with them editorially.

Editors, what’s your take on centos? Do you publish them? Do we have to get reprint permission from the other journals if a poet borrows a lot of lines from different poets? Do you acknowledge the previous poets? Are centos an editorial nightmare, or are they a widely accepted form in publishing?  Do we just go with the flow on centos as we would other found poems?

Poets, how would you feel if you came across your lines in a cento?

I look forward to discussion — thanks,  friends.









About Grimmgirl

I co-founded the small press poetry magazine Sheila-Na-Gig in California in 1990. I ran the press for 10 years, producing 14 print copies of the journal. I now hold a Ph.D. in 20th Century American Literature from Ohio University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. I am currently an Associate Professor of English at Ohio University Southern, where I teach courses in composition, American literature, and creative writing. My poetry, creative nonfiction, and critical essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Brock Review, Proteus, Rattle, Spillway, and the critical anthologies, The Body in Medical Culture; On the Literary Nonfiction of Nancy Mairs; and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics: Reflections on the Modern Master of Horror.

4 comments on “What about the Cento?

  1. Lisa Stice
    July 7, 2017

    I love centos and would consider it an honor if someone included pieces of one of my poems in one (especially if I was juxtaposed with some really cool poets). I think the key to a true cento is not merely using lines from other poets, but using them in ways that make knew meaning (a cento that uses poets from different centuries would be really cool). Yes, it needs to say something new; images need to take on different meanings because of the new context; it needs to be a commingling from not just one poet or poem; it needs to have the voice of the new poet; and it always needs to acknowledge from where all those borrowed lines originated.


  2. Lisa Stice
    July 7, 2017

    P.S. Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath wrote centos.


  3. Duncan Richardson
    July 16, 2017

    I haven’t read many centos but I think Lisa’s points about acknowledgement and distinct voices are really important. The cento was used as an excuse by the plagiarist Graham Nunn at the heart of the scandal a few years ago which involved poems stolen from around the world and it’s a form that takes a lot of skill and judgement to achieve.


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This entry was posted on July 7, 2017 by in Sheila-Na-Gig online: News.
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