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Way back in January, I introduced to you the practice of writing centos. Here’s a refresher:

A cento is a literary work, usually a poem, created exclusively from lines or phrases lifted from the work(s) of another author (or authors). You assemble the excerpts in whatever order you wish, thereby bringing to life a rich, new text.

You don’t have to worry about copyright violations, but I recommend crediting your source(s). For example, list them at the end, or provide an annotated version of your work, line by line.

Early next year, I’ll invite you to participate in a “Cento Celebration” based on my latest book, Staying Power 2: Writings from a Year of Emergence. This week, in advance of that invitation, I decided to create a sample cento for you.

I pulled May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude down from my bookshelfIt’s a work of prose. I perused the passages I’d underlined while reading it, decades ago. I jotted down words and phrases that “shimmered,” along with their page numbers. Finally, I started assembling a poem from those “shimmerings.” I had no idea what its theme would be. I just let the process lead where it would.

What follows is the result of my word play. (Here’s the annotated version.)


a cento after May Sarton*

I woke to the meadow bright silver with frost
and brilliant sunlight through yellow leaves over the barn.
What if I cannot find myself inside it?

I suffer from the tearing up of roots.
Loss has made everything sharp.
Angers take the marrow of my energy.
I feel it draining out like sand.
I am forced to my knees again and again.

We are never far from death.
But there is nothing that we suffer
that does not hold the seed.
When help is needed, it is there.

This morning, two small miracles:
The first is light.
In a supreme moment of light,
one becomes aware of the sacred.
It is all a matter of getting
to the center of the beam,
to live in the changing.

Then, the delight of space to be:
a whole day before me, an open place,
a lovely shelter in which to welcome a guest—
real life, to be taken in and cherished.

Look long enough, with absolute attention,
at a flower, a stone, the bark of a tree, a cloud—
they are presences.
Something like revelation takes place.
Something is given.
Each holds the whole mystery.
(Look through me and find yourself.)

Whatever peace I know
rests in the wrinkled purple eggplant
standing up in a bowl surrounded by sweet potatoes.

*All lines from May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973).

I encourage you to pull a random book off your shelf and compose a cento of your own. And be sure to watch for an announcement early next year about our “Cento Celebration” on The Raft. Remember, you’ll need a copy of Staying Power 2: Writings from a Year of Emergence to create your cento for that happy event.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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