Take an Amazon expedition

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On Amazon.ca, select the search category “books” and enter a search word that interests you. Choose your cultural background, favourite hobby, or a social issue. If you can’t think of a word, here are some places to start: change, fox, denial, spoon, or create.

Copy the titles Amazon suggests. Don’t stop until you have filled several pages.

Pull the most surprising, musical phrases to the top of your document. (Many of them probably won’t contain your search word.) Focus on things you can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. For example, if I searched “Mennonite,” I’d leave out “Mennonite cookbook” and choose titles like “Steppes are the colour of sepia” and “Every little scrap and wonder.”   

Now start grouping and rearranging these titles into stanzas that form meaningful lists or curious juxtapositions. (Feel free to cut words, but don’t add any.) Congratulations: you’ve created a cento — a poem made up of quotes from other writers.