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A Quilt of Poetry
Professor Susan Gubar shared this piece on the NYTimes’s “Well” blog about her experience living with cancer and her affection for that form of poetry known as the cento. She writes:
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.
According to Ms. McLane, poets “make the chaos of inner feeling not only sentient but shareable.” The chaos of feeling that surrounds disease differs for men and women subjected to quite different cancers. So I used visceral verse by both men and women to convey a chaos of feeling that all of us can share.