Cento – Introduction


Several circumstances converged for the creation of this ten-part poem, “And Even Now….” One factor was the discovery of the cento, a poem that is created through the use of other poets’ lines. First appearing somewhere between the 3rd and 4th centuries, a “cento” is a poem that is made of lines from other poems. The name is derived from Latin meaning “patchwork” and is considered a type of collage poem. The poetry of both Homer and Virgil contain centos. A true cento such as “And Even Now…” has no original lines.

The second contributing factor was a discussion on Christmas Day, 2012, about the Vermont Poet Laureates: Robert Frost, Galway Kinnell, Louise Gluck, Ellen Bryant Voight, Grace Paley, Ruth Stone, and Sydney Lea. 

The third factor leading to this book was the horrible incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School that shook me to the core. How do you process the murder of children, any child, anywhere? I did not have words for it. But, I thought, perhaps others did, so I culled the lines of other poets, specifically from the seven Vermont Poet Laureates. I decided to read at least one book by each poet, noting which lines resonated in some vague way to what I was feeling but unable to express myself.  These books were

Robert Frost: A Boy’s Will and A Witness Tree
Galway Kinnell: The Book of Nightmares
Ellen Bryant Voight: Kyrie and Messenger, New Poems
Louise Gluck: Meadowlands
Grace Paley: Fidelity
Ruth Stone: In the Dark
Sydney Lea: Young of the Year

I then went back through the books, typing up each line that I had marked with my pencil, and color-coded each author in order to keep track of which lines belonged to whom. The result was twelve pages of single lines. For the next several weeks, I grouped lines together, realizing that some spoke for the victims, some for their families, some for the murderer himself, and some for me. Thus the poem was written. The title is a partial line from Ruth Stone’s poem, “And So Forth,” found in her book In the Dark.

I don’t know if this poem will help anyone else. It was an exercise in order to somehow do something, express something, in the wake of not only Sandy Hook, but of what is currently occurring in American society. That is, the killing of our children. While each incident has its unique circumstances, there are specific measures that can be taken if we look to other nations: priority of quality education for all, the funding (not cutting) of programs to help those in need, an effective mental health care system, sensible gun control laws.

There is room for both freedom and safety in America.