Is a writer guilty of writing a patchwork (cento) of other authors works or opinions? Probably. The very act of communication introduces us to ideas not of our own making which we develop and embellish until even the original purveyor has trouble recognizing or claiming as his own.
Nobel-prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot’s observation is relevant to centos:
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds is theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”
Two examples of centos; The Oxford Cento by David Lehman and The Dong With the Luminous Nose by John Ashbery
Those of us who read or watch a lot of movies see centos in everything. Haven’t you thought to yourself “Oh, I read that in F. Scott Fitzgerald,” or actually knew the next line of dialogue in a movie? They say there is nothing new under the sun, and only so many stories to be told. Just tweak them a little and you may have a best seller. Just be sure to do a good job of your pilfering.
“Touch The Earth” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen
In rummaging through the books of poetry in my library looking for a particular one, I came upon a book of James Kavanaugh with an inscription from my daughter in 1979. I had forgotten it and I’m happy to have discovered it again.
The following poem is NOT a Cento, but it does have a relation to those who touch the earth.
TO THOSE WHO WALK EASY ON THE EARTH
by James Kavanaugh
To those who know:
that the desert flowers will bloom
when the oil rigs are silent;
that trees will again stand tall
over the ashes of forgotten wars;
that no one can take away the sunrise
or the smells of spring.
who walk easy on the earth.