What is Found Poetry?

by Marianne Richmond | 20 comments

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.

What is Found Poetry?

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 news articles and magazine articles or ads 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.

Erasure poetry can make some of the decision-making process easier since you're just looking at individual words and how they might work together in different patterns to make a new original poem. 

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

PRACTICE

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. (Not a member yet? Join us here!) And if you post, be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.

Have fun with this one!

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Marianne Richmond

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).

20 Comments

  1. Carlos Cooper

    Marianne, This is exactly what I needed to get the juices flowing. Here’s my practice from a random page of one of my novels:

    Flipping through channels.
    Mute the TV.
    My dad got invited.
    He wants you and me.

    Picked up the phone.
    Connection went through.
    Hank Waller answered.
    Maybe they knew.

    Reply
    • Joelle

      I love writing prompts like this. They are definitely helpful when you’re experiencing a poetry desert, like I am. Your poem is great. It makes me think of TV dinners on the couch, but then there is that mystery at the end. Very intriguing!

  2. Alexandre Leclerc

    A beautiful excerpt from Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome:

    Mother Earth looks at us with such dull, soulless eyes,
    when the sunlight has died away from out of her.
    It makes us sad to be with her then;
    she does not seem to know us
    or to care for us.
    She is as a widow
    who has lost the husband she loved,
    and her children touch her hand,
    and look up into her eyes,
    but gain no smile from her.

    Reply
  3. Elise Martel

    Whippoorwill
    What the small bird sings
    It doesn’t know.

    Whippoorwill
    On warm summer nights
    A whip descends.

    Whippoorwill
    A stroke for a song
    The night drags on.

    His name isn’t Will
    Yet he is poor
    And he is whipped.

    Whippoorwill
    Why does the small bird sing
    Always near him?

    Reply
  4. Elise Martel

    Looks raspberry across the room.
    He sees her, she sees him.
    The dying sun turns all to gold.
    Her hair, his face-such thoughts untold.

    A kitten patters to the window.
    Innocent, it pounces.
    First her, then him.
    She laughs, he smiles-their thoughts unraveled.

    The kitten purrs.
    The girl, she smiles.
    Raspberry sky and raspberry glances.
    But raspberry lips are the best.

    Reply
    • Aruna Ravi

      I really liked this poem. It has such a happy quality to it 🙂

  5. Joelle

    I was looking through a recipe book and saw this poetry prompt. I always have though food was very poetic, so I came up with this:

    Hazelnut and Chocolate Cupcakes by The Hummingbird Bakery

    Long day at work
    keyboards and coffee
    meetings and ringtones
    and then I come home.
    Arrange the cups and bowls
    mis en place.
    Preheat the oven to three twenty-five.
    All-purpose flour
    unsweetened cocoa powder
    in the right proportions.
    A scant three quarter cup sugar
    one and one half teaspoon baking powder
    a pinch of salt here
    over the shoulder, nothing to fear.
    Three tablespoons butter
    at room temperature
    time for a glass of wine
    to pass the time
    while the butter warms up.
    Whole milk, half a cup
    one egg, half cup Nutella.
    Mix everything up to the butter
    in the stand mixer
    slowly add the milk
    in a sensuous stream.
    Add the egg and beat well.
    Spoon the batter
    into the paper cups
    listen to them shuffle
    like dried leaves or money.
    Bake twenty minutes
    or until the cake bounces
    back when touched.
    When the cupcakes are cold,
    hollow out and fill
    with a dollop of Nutella.
    Now for the frosting.
    two cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
    5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
    two tablespoons whole milk
    one half cup Nutella.
    Mix them all together
    Slather the tops of the cupcakes
    with frosting.
    Eat and enjoy.

    Reply
    • Aruna Ravi

      Your poetry made me really hungry !
      Incidentally, have you tried out this recipe? Do you recommend it? 🙂

    • Aruna Ravi

      Excellent site ! Thanks for the link 🙂

  6. gia

    “fingers crossed,” you said that day
    after one hurricane and before the next.
    fall was a season of tangled webs
    where we linked at a breakage point
    but fell apart when the air turned to ice.

    you know, there’s a reason I always brightened at your voice
    and a reason we don’t see each other anymore, either
    but if I had the choice take back all my mistakes and forget I met you
    I wouldn’t take it for the world.

    Reply
    • oddznns

      I love this gia … how your combine the weather and the fragility of it all with the gone gone-ness of the relationship.

  7. William Teague

    Isn’t this also referred to as cut ups popularized by William Burroughs in the 50s?

    Reply
  8. Brianna Worlds

    That’s funny… I was taught in school that a “found” poem was the kind of poem that you could find in a commercial, on cereal boxes, anywhere, really. Hence, the name. Weird XD I bet my English teacher would throw a fit if I showed her this!

    Reply
  9. Alicia Rades

    This sounds fun. Here’s a poem I created from my previous collection. I went to the “Romance” section of my poetry book and snagged a line from different poems.

    Don’t you know I think about you all the time?
    I’m not this strong to keep you off my mind.
    You keep me here, you give me love.
    It’s you I need and I dream of.
    My heart keeps you in my dreams
    You are magic, magic to me.

    Eh…not the best, but maybe that’s because I know where the lines really go.

    Reply
    • Elise Martel

      Sometimes, a line may not sound just right but if it feels right, then keep it. Magic lines=magic story!

  10. Adelaide Shaw

    I picked out phrases from TRISTRAM SHANDY, skipping through chapters.
    Here is my found poem

    the wisest of men in all ages say
    desire may be enlarged or contracted
    I tremble to think
    of my life and opinions
    with reverence be it spoken
    it not much matter what I do
    but, in plain truth
    I am resolved to follow
    to go on quietly even with
    weakness of the body
    as well as weakness of the mind

    Adelaide B. Shaw

    Reply
  11. Shelley DuPont

    I love Found poetry. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of teaching poetry to my high school students. Found Poetry is a way of removing the intimidation factor and allowing students the freedom they need to play with language.

    Reply
    • Elise Martel

      When students, or anybody for that matter, feel the freedom to just write, it is beautiful. At first, their attempts might be awkward or shoddy, but that is only because so many potential writers are forced into a box and chained up to so many requirements that once the constraints are lifted, they don’t know what to do with themselves.
      One of my college classmates told me that she had to write 500 or 1000 word essays-the essays had to be exactly those number of words or the students would automatically fail the paper. To this day, she hates English with a passion. Everything that I saw her write was both forced and insecure. She constantly sought the approval and agreement of the reader, and kept writing “but that’s just my opinion and I hope you guys aren’t offended.” She couldn’t bring herself to just say what she thought, and I believe that her overly rigid high school requirements contributed in a big way to that. Granted, she grew up in West Africa where the school system is much different, but I have met so many people who fear or hate writing because they always felt as if they could never do right. More teachers should utilize found poetry as a way to get at the heart of writing, which is, of course, creativity. Creativity and heart itself.

  12. NkzQKy

    613994 864463We guarantee authentic brands avoiding inferior commercial imitations, or even dangerous counterfeits. 272346

    Reply

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