Writing poetry can feel like a daunting task. Should you use a poetic form? Will it rhyme? How do I begin? There's a lot to think about. But what if you could build poems from materials that already exist? Let's answer the question, what is found poetry, and look at some examples of how you can “find” your own poem with this method.
My cousin introduced me to Found Poetry when she was compiling a book to honor her older brother who had passed away. Upon discovering a stash of his many writings, she invited people to create “found poetry” using his narratives as inspiration.
What is found poetry?
According to the Wikipedia, Found Poetry is:
a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning.
Found poetry is the literary equivalent of an art collage. Much like the visual artist who combines multiple media (newspaper articles, feathers, coins, sheet music) into collage art, you can do the same with words, pulling concepts and phrasings from various sources to create “found” poems.
What can you use for source texts?
Anything goes here, from the obvious newspapers and magazine articles to the more obscure product packaging, menus, obituaries, junk mail, recipe cards, graffiti, sheet music, diary entries, cook books, appliance instructions, to-do lists and court transcripts. Whatever raw material you use, just be certain you give credit where it is due if using copyrighted work.
Okay, I have some source material. Now what?
This is where your word artistry comes in. Start playing. for the cut-up method, you can clip out words or phrases that speak to you and start rearranging them until a thought or theme jumps out at you. Then keep adjusting your cut-up poem until it's capturing an idea you like.
You could even arrange the cut out words and phrases into a separate design or image on a sheet of paper, adding pictures, watercolors or other media to your patchwork poetry.
For the blackout method or an erasure poem, you can start with a complete text and work backwards — start to erase words and sentences from the original sources until something new emerges. If you start with a page from the newspaper, blackout or change out words until you have an interesting new blackout poem build from the text.
Sometimes, it's simple a matter of breaking up sentences in interesting ways. Let yourself play with different types of material, letting the words and spaces be a catalyst for inspiration.
A sample poem
I did this one from a sample diary entry I found online. The entry was several paragraphs long about the comings and goings of the day. I read it and noticed where my mind and eye stopped. I noticed repetition. What felt meaningful and interesting in the text. I re-wrote the narrative into this:
Mama went out to Ethels.
Steve went out in the canoe.
Dad went out to shop.
Everyone went out.
And then came in.
To eat supper.
You can see other examples of blackout poetry here on Austin Kleon's site. And poet Kate Baer has interesting ways she turns internet comments into new poems using the erasure method in her book I Hope This Finds You Well.
Whatever materials you use to build your own found poem, try not to overthink it. Let the pure fun of play capture you and enjoy the process. Who knows where it might lead?
Have you ever tried found poetry? What do you like about it? Tell us in the comments.
Today let's try some found poetry! Set your timer for 15 minutes. Find a narrative that you've previously written (or alternately a bit of text online) and pull words and phrases from it to create a new poem.
When you're finished, post your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.
Have fun with this one!
I'm Marianne Richmond—writer, artist and inspirationalist. My words have touched millions over the past two decades through my children's books and gift products.
Basically I put love into words and help you connect with the people + moments that matter. You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Twitter (@M_Richmond21).