Poetry Prompt: Cento Practice


This post is part of a series of weekend found poetry prompts. If you have an idea for a found poetry source, email Senior Poetry Editor Beth Ayer.

For this week’s prompt, we ask you to create a cento by rearranging the lines in these selected poems:

A monster owl by Lorine Niedecker
This Room by John Ashbery
A Small Story about the Sky by Alberto Ríos
from The People, Yes by Carl Sandburg
The Artist by Amy Lowell
Late Summer by Jennifer Grotz

These poems have already been deconstructed for you in this spreadsheet. Download the spreadsheet to sort the lines alphabetically or randomly (to sort randomly, sort the column that appears as a list of numbers). Of course, you may also extricate lines from the original texts yourself (links above). You may use any number of lines as long as you form an original, meaningful poem. To write a cento: rearrange lines from the selected texts into a new poem. The original lines remain intact; the main intervention comes in arrangement and form. Read more about forms and practices of found poetry.

We can’t wait to see what you come up with!


  • September 21, 2013

    Sarah Nichols

    Disappeared Here: A Cento

    You are not even here and
    I wanted to tell you
    this small story.

    Which of the faiths and illusions
    written by fire
    must I choose for my present wilderness ?

    I am choked with the Disappeared.



    “This Room,” John Ashbery
    “A Small Story About the Sky,” Alberto Rios
    ” from The People, Yes,” Carl Sandberg
    “The Artist,” Amy Lowell

  • September 21, 2013

    Mary Bast

    So red, so gray, so yellow

    Before the moths have even appeared
    Something shimmers, something is hushed up.
    A small piece of blue in its mouth.
    out on the fence
    while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
    except Sunday, when a small quail was induced

    He was a mystery in smoke and flags
    huddled around a dropped piece of bread
    A piece of the sky burnt
    Death was in the air.
    And I too should tremble,

    At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.
    Ten thousand snaps and pinches
    of? The sign of
    Clawing themselves to get up,
    On each other’s backs
    Too fast to pull back,
    Like a clear jet of flung water,
    Hands, fingers, fingernails,
    So was birth.

    Why do you dim yourself with folded silks?
    Summer specializes in time, slows it down
    almost to dream

    To bring me beyond the present wilderness?
    No to personal malice nursed and fed,
    How pale you would be, and startling—
    If you think like a fire—
    mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!

    Terrible—we forget this
    Still unsure of what’s here.
    This small story
    It intended to be more

    Cento by Mary Bast from: “A monster owl” by Lorine Niedecker, “This Room” by John Ashbery, “A Small Story about the Sky” by Alberto Ríos, from “The People, Yes” by Carl Sandburg, “The Artist” by Amy Lowell, and “Late Summer” by Jennifer Grotz

  • September 21, 2013

    George McKim

    (for lorine niedecker, john ashbery, alberto ríos, carl sandburg, amy lowell & jennifer grotz)

    the summer sky with all its arms
    blooms so slowly in the morning

    i wanted to tell you
    i am not even here in all these things,
    these people,
    these illusions,
    these paradoxes,

    these years
    written by fire

    but your curves
    your curves,
    no regular fire—
    count down the dulling of daylight.
    and even the birds tremble,
    even the birds
    dream of  this room


    source text:

    a monster owl by lorine niedecker
    this room by john ashbery
    a small story about the sky by alberto ríos
    from the people, yes by carl sandburg
    the artist by amy lowell
    late summer by jennifer grotz