Found Poems (R7)


About thirty years ago I became stuck in this double-bind: while I was spending time reading I had the feeling that I was wasting time when I could have been writing; while I was focussed on writing I developed the trance of feeling that writing was getting in the way of reading. When you’re in a double-bind it’s advisable to figure a way out—that’s perhaps why Mister God, if he ever did stump about the Earth, old man in carpet-slippers, which is doubtful to say the least, invented double-binds: viz, to offer us the choice to figure out a more creative solution.

After rather more than a bit, I hit upon the idea of writing while reading and of course (fish & chips or chips & fish) reading while writing. To start with I made Found Poems into books separate from books of what I liked to think of as my ‘real poems’. But soon it became the case that the Found Poems began to influence the style of the ‘real poems’. When I bring out a book now Found and Real poems appear side by side with a careful note of the original source where applicable—I think that’s very important.

How all this happened I’m not exactly sure but I could teach anybody how to write Found Poems.

The Found Poem habit has turned into a ruminative one—were you to look up the page references in the Ballantine paperback 1972 you would not discover the sources in exactly the form they appear here in these three poems that popped out of Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind while I was reading it last night—he does not refer to ‘Iran’s nuclear ambitions’ for example!


you do not know
what the problems used to be
until after they have been solved
so then you know
just what they might have been
when they were ‘problems’
except that then (afterwards)
it’s difficult to imagine
in what way
they might have been problematical before

take ‘reification’ for example:
there are in the mind
no objects or events—no pigs
no coconut palms and no mothers;
the mind (electro-chemical outfit that it is)
consists solely of transforms
of percepts   of images   and certain rules
for the construction of transforms etcetera
about which we know nothing
except that they must be
embodied in the machinery
somewhere somehow

when people claim to be
afraid of spiders say
or god and his empty Word
both the fear and the transform
are simple constructs of the mind
a species of thick mental fog
just like love & ambition & lustre

when people say that unicorns
must exist because
we have the word ‘unicorn’
they fall into the welcoming trap
of mistaking the transform
for the real thing; same
with pigs & coconut palms & mothers
& Iran’s nuclear ambitions

we have the words but nothing else—
so much for the problem of reification…

(Rumination on page 271 of Gregory Bateson’s
Steps to an Ecology of Mind)


you the explorer

can never know
what you are exploring
until whatever it is has been explored;
then you may know what it might have been
but it has become so familiar
that you’ve long since ceased from exploration

meanwhile there’s no Baedeker in the pocket
no guidebook to say
what churches to visit
or one night cheap hotels to stay in

maybe there’s just the ambiguous folklore
of others who’ve passed that way before you

what other levels of the mind
guide you towards experiences & thoughts
relevant to the terrain
and the exploreworthy by-ways

strangely though
the question has to be asked:
how is it that guidance
of an arcane variety
does come long before you are conscious
of your goals?

order & pattern & context
might have something to do with it

(Rumination on Gregory Bateson’s
introduction to Steps to an Ecology of Mind)



why don’t you use
the other three quarters
of your brain?

well—the trouble is
I had school-teachers too—
they filled up about a quarter
of my brain with fog

then I read newspapers
and things in e-land
and listened to what other people said
and that filled up
another quarter with fog

but what about the other quarter daddy?

that’s full of fog
I made myself
when I was trying to think

(from page 26 of Gregory Bateson’s
Steps to an Ecology of Mind)

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