Found Poems

To Combine Reading & Writing

I spend a good deal of time reading. I also like to write. There came a time in the late 1980’s when I got myself into the awful bind of feeling that when I was reading I was wasting time because I felt I ought to be writing and that when I was writing I was wasting a similar amount of time because I felt I ought to be reading. Ridiculous? Well, yes – but then any human activity you care to think of is ridiculous in the final analysis.

The Basis of Found Poems

Twenty-odd years (they were very odd years) before that I was obsessed by the Dada concept of the Objet trouvé and worked with collage technique using wood and metal in the style of Kurt Schwitters. I had also given to reluctant teenagers books of poetry which the school where I ‘worked’ was throwing in the dustbin and got them to cut out lines of established poetry and re-assemble a collection of them to create their own ‘poems’.

And so, in the collage-constructing brain, I arrived at the idea of writing while reading or reading while writing – Found poems! Nothing new in the idea! Coleridge seemed to be doing it in Kubla Khan

But BOOKS AS POEM GENERATING MACHINES that’s a little bit novel. Paragraphs from books of prose as POEM PARADIGMS – that’s a new idea. Reading and writing all in one go. No wasting time… Reading as a creative process…

Outcomes

After developing the Found Poem habit, you’ll find that poems will start leaping off the printed page at you; the images and cadences are there for the taking – they’ll ring bells in your own existence; the style will be your own; the recycling process is yours. You will probably find, as I did, that the process of writing Found Poems will tighten up your own approach to writing poems; the way you currently write poems will, of course, determine your selection process. It’s systemic!

To Make a Start

So how do you start writing Found Poems? One approach is to go into a secondhand bookshop – Cromer, Snettisham, Stamford, Charing Cross Road (before it dies), Museum Street, Cecil Court, King’s Cross, Brighton, Eastbourne, Penzance, Beverley, Hay-on-Wye and so on… – and pick up more or less at random some decaying tome and, at random, open it and see what you find. Serendipity lives! The back passages of secondhand bookshops are POEM BANKS. You will find yourself at home recycling long forgotten prose.

Example

In this way and for this purpose, for instance, I purchased Letters from Country and Town, a kind of epistolatory novel by one Alciphron, a Greek who flourished sometime around 200AD. From a first glance in a cramped corridor in the secondhand bookshop in Stamford, it just looked a promising text. There is no date at the front of the book, but in his introduction the translator, FAWright, refers to Ulysses (1922) and handling the book I do not sense anything of the impending disaster that turned into the Second World War which dates it somewhere around 1930. I doubt whether there are many other copies of the book prized and still in circulation. It is very satisfying to find a volume that’s been dead and buried these seventy-odd years containing so much that is worthy of recycling as poetry. I think it’s very important to acknowledge the original sources of Found Poetry so that the genius of the original author lives again through the finder.

The Prose Original

It was high summer noon. I chose a pine tree standing apart that faced the wind and caught every breeze, and beneath it took shelter from the burning heat. As I lay in the pleasant cool it occurred to me to touch a measure. I took my flute, ran my tongue along, with lips together drawing a gentle breath, and soon my ears were ravished with a pastoral melody. My goats meanwhile, enchanted somehow by the sweet sound, came from all sides and stood around me. They ceased to crop the arbutus and the asphodel and gave themselves altogether to my music, while I in their midst was like another Edonus, son of the Queen Calliope. I send you this as a piece of good news, for I like my friend to know that even my flock is musical.

The Found Poem

it was high summer noon

I chose a pine tree
standing apart
that faced the wind and caught
every breeze and beneath it
took shelter from the burning heat

as I lay in the pleasant cool
it occurred to me to touch a measure:
I took my flute
ran my tongue along
with lips together drawing a gentle breath
and soon my ears were ravished
with a pastoral melody

my goats meanwhile
enchanted somehow by the sweet sound
came from all sides and stood around me;
they ceased to crop the arbutus and the asphodel
and gave themselves altogether
to my music while I in their midst
was like another Edonus
son of the Queen Calliope

I send you this as a piece of good news
for I like my friend to know
that even my flock is musical.

Another approach to writing Found Poetry is to check out writers of whom you may be particularly fond; because they’ve chosen to volunteer themselves as ‘favourites’ there will probably be something in them of the poetry of your soul… So here’s a small prose extract from one of my favourite writers, John Cowper Powys (The Art of Happiness) and its transformation into a Found Poem. You’ll notice that in this case the poem is a gloss rather than a straight ‘lift’:-

The Prose Original

What is not sufficiently realised is that the whole drama of life goes on in individual minds, and is independent of outward actions and outward events. Our life is lived in a mental world whereof the material background is forever changing according to the mood of the individual mind.

And this does not only apply to imaginative or intellectual people.. It applies to everyone! We may present the appearance of ‘forked radishes’, or of sausages tied at the neck and waist, or of scare-crows on perambulating sticks, or of fancy dolls, or of phantom-masks of tragedy. From the round knobs on the top of us there look forth upon the world those terrible holes into eternity that we call human eyes and what you see at the bottom of these holes is the world of mind, a world full of pits that go down into hell and of corridors leading to paradise.

The Derived Poem

life is lived

in a mental world –
we may present the appearance
of forked radishes
or of sausages tied at the neck and waist
or of scarecrows on perambulatory sticks
or of fancy dolls
or of phantom masks of tragedy
but from the round knobs on top of us
there look forth upon the world
those terrible holes into eternity
and what you see there
is the world of mind
a world full of pits
that go down into hell
and of corridors leading to paradise.

The habit of constructing Found Poetry will transform your reading habits!

Course Information

  • Course Organisation: One Day 9 -5
  • Venue: Large house in pleasant rural surroundings near The Wash in Lincolnshire
  • Investment: £100
  • Tackle: Large library available for browsing
  • Catering: Lunches & refreshments provided
  • Further details through WordPress

7 thoughts on “Found Poems

  1. Playful. Will have to experiment with such. I will have to pass on Museum Street and so forth and settle for the second-hand bookstore in San Francisco, though I would dance at the chance to go shopping in your neck of the woods.
    Bravo! Well done …
    Thank you.

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  2. I’ve played with this and you’ve already seen some outcomes on line. Another to go up on musing this week on my blog –

    HALF-DONE THINGS

    by

    Jamie Dedes

    the peace of the midnight pen
    writes its script across my days
    it tells the story
    of my love for half-done things
    the rose bud before the bloom
    the fiction roughly outlined
    the crescent moon in saffron hue
    the child with all his promise
    *
    copyright 2012 poem, Jamie Dedes, all rights reserved

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  3. Hi Colin. I’m doing an online course on Mod American Poetry. It’s part of Coursera – have you heard of them? I’m impressed. You mentioned you don’t receive emails when I post, a while back. I’ve now got a ‘Follow’ icon on my blog which if you click should do the trick!

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  4. Hi Colin
    I love the idea of crafting poems (found ones in our heads and in old tomes!) from old second hand books. I must try this as soon as possible, especially as I’m doing courses on poetry at the moment. (reading and writing!)

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  5. Hi Eric

    The email alerting me to these two posts got through.

    I greatly enjoyed the Coursera course on Kierkegaard a year or so ago – it was so brilliant that I think it spoiled me when it came to doing a curse [misspelling but probably very accurate!] course in Mysticism which was dreadful. Too dreadful for words! I ought to try something else, I think. Modern American poetry sounds like a good idea!

    I hope you start on the Found Poems journey. As I say above it can become an obsession! I hand-make paperbacks and in the late 80’s I ‘published’ two fat volumes of purely found poems. Gradually, I began to incorporate found poems into my own books of poetry having found that what I ‘found’ was so much like my own poetry anyway (or was it that the habit informed my own poetry-writing? or both?) and more recently found poems have become kinda meditations on things found in books, sometimes using exact found words but drifting off into my own thoughts. I always acknowledge the source.

    Let me know how you get on; be great to correspond over this.

    Colin

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