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A Collage Poem: The Cento

Author and poet Shirley McPhillips continues our Poetry Month series this week with a post about collage poems. Make sure to check out her previous posts on bringing students into the world of poetry and blogging about poetry. Share your own cento in the comments section!

A Collage Poem: The Cento

Recently I started a collage notebook. Each page has an arrangement of shapes, colors, and textures suggesting a theme, an idea. Keeping this notebook, I find myself being attracted to materials for making collages. I collect papers of all sorts. I save art magazines. I dismantle packaged products. The expectation of creating something keeps me looking for possibly useful and surprising materials.

After Hurricane Irene, for example, I tore pieces from an old watercolor painting and cut shapes from an art magazine to make an abstract design suggesting the ferocity of that storm. Plants spiking, twisting, wrenching. Light shafting, cutting. Water curling, grasping, overlapping. Ever after I will think of the storm with my new image in mind.

A poem form called the cento can be thought of as a collage poem. Cento means “patchwork” in Latin. It is a type of writing, especially a poem, composed wholly of quotations from the works of other authors. A whole new poem, a new meaning, is made from choosing and assembling lines from other poems.

Poets can make small changes in the lines they choose for a cento, or use lines exactly as they appear. Usually a cento will include no more than one line from each poem, and the lines may represent one poet or several poets.

Lest we get excited that this may be “stealing” lines, we can remember T. S. Eliot’s statement: “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.” It seems respectful practice, in any case, to cite one’s sources. (My opinion.)

On the Academy of American Poets Web site, the staff show how they composed a cento using lines from Marie Ponsot, Emily Dickinson, Charles Wright, Sylvia Plath, and Samuel Beckett.

More contemporary centos, such as John Ashbery’s “The Dong with the Luminous Nose,” are often witty and play with ideas and images. See also “Wolf Cento” by Simone Muench.

Finally, creating a cento is not about constructing but rather arranging lines in a particular sequence. That arrangement can delight and inspire and move us for the same reasons that any other kind of poem can.

Cady (grade six) wrote a cento after looking through his favorite collection called ’Til All the Stars Have Fallen, poems selected by David Booth. He used sources from James Reaney, Myra Stillborn, Jane Wadley, Joanne Lysyk, Ken Stange, Robert Heidbreder, Dorothy Livesay, Chief Dan George, and Anne Corkett.

The wind was a tall sweet woman

circling the shadow of every tree
tramping the grass so that it lay flat
cackling with laughter—

speaks to me
now raise your arms and fly, fly, fly.

This night I rise and scream
Till I’ve cried the rivers full.

O where have you gone?

1 comment April 18th, 2012

Reading Recovery

It’s hard to believe that our “spring” conference season has begun! First up, Stenhouse tracked to Columbus, Ohio, for the 2012 National Reading Recovery conference. Peter Johnston was one of several authors signing books at the booth. His new book, Opening Minds, is now available in a package with his previous book, Choice Words. Visit the Stenhouse website to buy both and save!

Add comment February 6th, 2012

Happy Holidays!

The Stenhouse blog will take a little break until 2012. Thank you for following and commenting all year long. We hope you enjoyed our blog tours, our first ever Summer Writing Blogstitute, and the many videos, articles, and poems we posted throughout the year.

We leave you with the view of Monument Square from our offices in Portland, Maine. Merry Christmas!

1 comment December 23rd, 2011

Thursday roundup: Celebrating teachers

Amanda Villagomez, a teacher from Oregon, recently started a new series on her blog called Celebrating Educators. She hopes to inspire new and veteran teachers alike by sharing educators’ journeys. In the latest installment Stenhouse author Pat Johnson writes about how she discovered her passion of working with struggling readers. Check back with Amanda’s blog often to read about other teachers’ journeys and to share yours!

And while you are on Amanda’s blog, also check out this great review of Herbert Broda’s recent book Moving the Classroom Outdoors.

Stenhouse author Franki Sibberson recently interviewed Kelly Gallagher about his new book, Write Like This. You can listen to the podcast and read the full transcript on the ChoiceLiteracy website.

Kelly’s previous book, Readicide, was also mentioned in a blog entry on the Tucson Citizen website by op-ed writer Marc Severson.

Add comment September 8th, 2011

Franki Sibberson Reviews So What Do They Really Know?

Franki Sibberson, at AYear of Reading (and co-author of Beyond Leveled Books and Still Learning to Read, with Karen Szymusiak) has reviewed Cris Tovani’s latest book, So What Do They Really Know?

“This is a book that I read from cover to cover and one that I plan to go back to again and again as I struggle with the place of assessment in literacy instruction.  Cris takes us back to the most important reasons classroom teachers assess students–in order to make decisions on where to go next…to use assessments to inform our instruction.  No matter what level you teach, Cris gives us something important to think about when it comes to assessment. It is a book that will reground readers.”

For the full review and a video featuring Cris discussing her new book with Samantha Bennett, visit .  We have the full book available for  preview at the Stenhouse site .

Add comment July 27th, 2011

Writing contest deadline extended!

David Somoza, an elementary school teacher, and Peter Lourie, adventure travel book writer, have teamed up to write the new book Writing to Explore: Discovering Adventure in the Research Paper, 3-8. In their book, David and Peter show teachers how to guide students to write interesting, adventurous, well-researched papers that are rooted in real places, supported by facts, and developed with detailed descriptions of images from real locations.

In that spirit, we challenge you to send us your students’ best writing about a state or a place they have lived in, visited, or daydreamed about. When we say “writing,” we mean that any “old” or “new” form of storytelling is acceptable: photo stories, video clips, interviews, poetry, essays, research papers, or even cartoon strips. The important thing is that as we read your students’ work we’ll feel like we’ve been transported to the place they are writing about.

The essays will be judged by David and Peter and the top five submissions will be featured on the Stenhouse Blog.

One winner will receive a library of Stenhouse books of your choice (a $150 value), and the following books by Peter Lourie to start your classroom adventure library (a $180 value): Amazon, Arctic Thaw, First Dive to Shark Dive, Hidden World of the Aztec, Hudson River, The Lost Treasure of Captain Kidd, Lost Treasure of the Inca, Lost World of the Anasazi, On Texas Trail of Cabeza de Vaca, On the Trail of Lewis & Clark, On the Trail of Sacagawea, Rio Grande, Tierra Del Fuego, Yukon River.

Send your stories to If you would like to send us a larger file, you can mail a CD or thumb drive to Stenhouse Publishers, Attn: Zsofia McMullin, P.O. Box 11020, Portland, ME 04101-7020.

5 comments April 29th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Help create a global poem

April is National Poetry Month! Join LitWorld, A Global Literacy Organization, in celebrating the power and spirit of words by helping to compose a Global Poem for Change:

The wonderful poet Naomi Shihab Nye got us started with a first line:

I send my words out into the air, listening for yours from everywhere.

What words do you send out into the air? What words do you listen for?

Celebrate Poetry Month and create a Global Poem for Change with LitWorld!

What comes next?

Submit a line of your own at and watch our Poem GROW at

We need Your Words to Change Worlds.

Add comment April 8th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Thank you, Stormy

Here is a great poem if you want to practice some visualizing on your own on this Poetry Friday. It’s from Nancy Springer’s book, Music of Their Hooves (1994), and it appears in Linda Dorn and Carla Soffos’ recent title Teaching for Deep Comprehension. Enjoy!

Thank you, Stormy
Nancy Springer

My horse I’m writing you
To thank you for taking me
Up the wildflower trail
Where the air smelled like angels

And getting me around the fallen tree
And being calm when the grapevine
Grabbed you under the belly
And backing up when I asked you to
Even though you don’t like to do it

Thank you for bringing me home
When I got kind of lost
Up there on the mountain
And thank you for standing still
As a tree trunk when we met up with
The skunk

I promise I will bring you
Wild pears like the deer eat
And shampoo your mane and tail
And never let your water go dry

I’m not a perfect human
You are not a perfect horse
Buyt today we were a team
Thank you Stormy
I love you

2 comments January 21st, 2011

Poetry Friday: America

This Friday’s poem by Claude McKay comes from Alfred Tatum’s book Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap. Tatum explains that he selected this text for his black male students to prompt them to make connections between who they were, who they are, and who they could become. “Focusing on black male empowerment during literacy insruction is an effective way to engage black males with text,” Tatum says.

Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like the tides into my blood,
Give me strength erect agains her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word or jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like pricess treasures sinking in the sand.

1 comment January 14th, 2011

Happy Holidays!

The blog — and its editor — will take a few days off to celebrate Christmas. Thank you for reading this year and we’ll be back with another Quick Tip Tuesday Dec. 28.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Stenhouse!

Add comment December 23rd, 2010

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