Revolutionary Cento: Workshop

Join Lehigh Valley Poetry for a special “election week” poetry workshop during the Easton Book Festival.

The Lehigh Valley Poetry Salon and Open Mic is a weekly virtual event, with a mini-workshop or generative writing prompt on the first Monday of the month. For this month, we will be taking a break from the usual format to support the festival with a special mini-workshop with current events in mind.

This workshop will support poets in drawing from source materials to construct poetry, creating a “cento”. Political, Radical, Revolutionary sources encouraged! More information and resources will be available below.

Facilitated by Lynn Alexander, this event will REPLACE the regularly scheduled salon. Open to all, and free!

Date: November 2, 2020 at 8:30 PM EST Contact:
Lehigh Valley Poetry: Revolutionary Cento
Join Lehigh Valley Poetry for a workshop exploring the cento, drawing from political, revolutionary, radical texts. Followed by sharing and open mic. Source material and guidance will be available on the Lehigh Valley Poetry website,

Nov 2, 2020 08:30 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Webinar ID: 865 1541 7378

Link: HERE

Facebook Event Here


(File of slides, in PDF)

WORKSHOP Suggestions

We can look at some source material, but if you want to get a look before at some suggestions and a sample:

What is a “Cento”?

“A cento is a collage-poem composed of lines lifted from other sources — often, though not always, from great poets of the past. … The word cento is also Italian for “one hundred,” and some mosaic poems consist of exactly 100 lines culled by one poet from the work of another to pay tribute to him or her.” Below are some source materials that you can search for, and some have text excerpts below.
**Article: “Revolution and Poetry”, Jeannette Marks, VQR, A National Journal of Literature and Discussion

**Pete Seeger: “What Did You Learn in School Today? (lyrics)
(Link here to list of Pete Seeger Songs, compiled by PRI)

**Diane diPrima: Revolutionary Letter #8

…go to love-ins
With incense, flowers, food, and a plastic bag
With a damp cloth in it, for tear gas, wear no jewelry
Wear clothes you can move in easily, wear no glasses
Contact lenses
Earrings for pierced ears are especially hazardous

Try to be clear
In front, what you will do if it comes
To trouble
If you’re going to try to split stay out of the center
Don’t’ stampede or panic others
Don’t waiver between active and passive resistance
Know your limitations, bear contempt
Neither for yourself, nor any of your brothers

**Percy Bysshe Shelley: “The Masque of Anarchy”
Stanzas 39 and 40:

What is Freedom?—ye can tell
That which slavery is, too well—
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own.
’Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs, as in a cell
For the tyrants’ use to dwell

**Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Song to the Men of England”
**Walt Whitman: From “To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire” (From “Leaves of Grass”)

Courage yet, my brother or my sister!
Keep on—Liberty is to be subserv’d whatever occurs;
That is nothing that is quell’d by one or two failures, or any number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by any unfaithfulness,
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes.

**Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Protest”
**Carl Sandburg, “The Mayor of Gary”
**Carl Sandburg, “I Am the People, the Mob”

**Wanda Coleman, “The ISM”

tired i count the ways in which it determines my life
permeates everything. it’s in the air
lives next door to me in stares of neighbors
meets me each day in the office. its music comes out the radio
drives beside me in my car. strolls along with me
down supermarket aisles
it’s on television
and in the streets even when my walk is casual/undefined
it’s overhead flashing lights
i find it in my mouth
when i would speak of other things

**Marilyn Nelson, “Daughters 1900”
**Allen Ginsberg “America”


America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.

America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.

Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they’re all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe

America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.


Example Cento

“Quick, Everybody Out of The Typing Pool”
A Cento on Emma Goldman’s “Anarchism and Other Essays”, Chapter Ten: The Tragedy of Women’s Emancipation. Second Edition, Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911.

Some might find the writing of Emma Goldman to be rooted in her time, and certainly we can acknowledge that the world is a different place. On the other hand, it is remarkable how much remains the same. Many women, for example, are still finding themselves in demanding roles and the inability to commit to doing them well without paying a price. To “compete”, to pursue independent security, to be creative, to care for chosen family units and chosen home environments, to be skilled, to prioritize self care… few can manage it all.

Quick, Everybody Out of The Typing Pool

Glorious, is privilege!
Glorious, the disregard for Her.
For “Submission”. Choice, yes?

Commands. Conventions.
An elopement of yardsticks. Propriety
measured by ladder
Hindrance. Satisfied.
Hindrance: that either/or
“Hindrance”, then? Or “Reckless Life”?
Typing pool or wife?
Either/Or, Both, Some, All, None

All, unendurable. None, unendurable.
We find the Neither and the Or
In poetry, in psychological sketches, in comment, in subsistence,
in the inner life, in the artificial, in barriers broken, in growing empty
and dead-

Horror- love will hinder! Horror, motherhood will hinder!
Horror- Human in the Truest Sense!
True? Human? No. You are more often ruins, considered useful.

She, as the rope in moonlight
She, as the stone walls
who fail to lay stress
on their own ground

Commands. Conventions.
But in the hands and hearts of human beings-
Behold, a CEO, of “The Board of Themselves”
Internal tyrants, yes, and yet
the exponents of society
Go wildly beating
against their first meeting.

But sacred to the function, to the moral, to the beauty, as walls, as rope-
Attempts to function.

Commands. Conventions. Submission. Hindrance, Reckless Life. Internal tyrants. Beauty. Rope. Stones. Walls. Ground. But then the yardstick, left to overlook the artist.
That compulsory vestal, yardstick, clarifying sorrows, yardstick
Oh but the ruins! Useful.

What would mother say, or you, indignant, at any price?
Submission? Or rather, propriety, as germs
in the hearts of our grandmothers: eithers, ors, or neithers

And four stone walls
Who fail to lay stress
on their own ground

(E.Lynn Alexander)

Diane diPrima: Revolutionary Letter #19

**Note: Push beyond your comfort zone, try speeches and political essays from people you do not agree with and make a statement about those opinions.

News sources, articles, speeches, websites, propaganda…

**Try multiple text sources and experiment:

*Current Events
*Unusual sources:
Instruction manuals
Political websites

Lynn Alexander can be reached at This is a free poetry workshop, and sources used are the property of their creators. Their mention here is to provide examples of source materials available online for creative use. Please credit the authors above when citing sources.

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