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A Poetry Quilt

Posted 7/28/2013

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  I love this idea. If you have been in my office, you know that one wall is covered by a lovely quilt. Women often ask me about the quilt, and I truly wish there were a good story, but here is truth: I bought it for half price in a shop in Vermont. Maybe that is enough of a story, because this quilt has surely witnessed and heard more stories than most other quilts could possibly aspire to emulate. If you know me, you also know that I admire many poets, love many poems, and quote them often. This essay by Susan Gubar is about a poetry form that is brand new to me: the cento.

  A cento turns out to be a poem that is pieced together from lines of other poems, like a quilt. Think about it: isn't that what happens always in a life and very concretely happens in groups. We sit together by my hanging quilt and we take a little from one and a little from another and a coda from a third, and we end up with a wonderful blended story that depends on us all. I love this.

  Here is the beginning of the essay from The New York Times and a link to read the rest:

JULY 25, 2013, 1:25 PM
Living With Cancer: A Quilt of Poetry
In her book “My Poets,” Maureen McLane reminded me of a poetic form called the cento. It
consists of snippets of verse composed by other writers.
The genre speaks to me because I am a quilter who cuts out small bits of fabric to join to
other small bits of fabric. Quilters call the process of sewing together different swatches of
cotton “piecing.”
After reading a number of poems about cancer, I set out to piece a cento by stitching a line or
two from one writer to a passage from another. I was inspired by poems that appear in
collections like “The Poetry Cure” and “Her Soul Beneath the Bone,” as well as poems that
individual poets published in books of their own work. Part of the appeal of the cento is its
concluding apparatus — the works cited at the end. These footnotes offer readers a chance to
explore the wider selection of verse abridged here.


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