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This review is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

Just Another Shell The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems, edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford (Red Hen Press) $24.95

Writing about the early work of Max Ernst, André Breton concluded, 'Everything should be capable of being freed from its shell'. Breton was thinking of collage, of the clash and blending together of 'the shapes of the sidereal bestiary, of germination, of mechanical traction, of blossoming crystals, as well as, devil take it, some designs from the wallpaper in my room and the bundle of shadows that falls from my hat'. For Breton, Ernst had the god-like power to remove the unborn thing from its starting point and place it living and vibrant in another setting, birthing and recycling it at once, one vessel communicating with another. This is one of surrealism's inventions and although Dalí's melting clocks and pathetic phalluses abound at student poster sales, we should remember surrealism for its inventiveness. Automatic writing, the exquisite corpse, convulsive beauty, objective chance, decalcomania, montage, frottage, collage, bricolage: these techniques suggested not only new ways of approaching artistic creation but life itself - all the while drawing on a larger tradition. If surrealism's influence has waned it is only because novelty always wears quickly and too few have been original with the tools at hand in the way that the movement's progenitors were.

Theresa Malphrus Welford opens her anthology of 'centos' (pronounced sento and not chento, no matter how much I would prefer it otherwise), a form of collage, with a call not to the surrealists (despite the presence of Dalí on the cover and Dana Gioia's 'Elegy ...


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