Finding a poem

found poem

[Image from Mr Miller’s English Language Arts Blog and found using Google Images]

Creating found poetry means taking words, phrases and lines from other sources and using them to create poems. I’d like to tell you about two kinds of found poems I have been introduced to and enjoyed.

1. Finding poems in published prose

I first heard about this type of found poetry from Kirsty Stanley, who is an occupational therapist and a writer. On her blog, Kirsty has included found poems she crafted by photocopying a page of a book or magazine and creating a poem by artistically highlighting selected words and phrases on the page. This is a fun technique that can create something quite unexpected – for example a poem on a topic that is different both from your usual poetry and from the source text.

For the poem I have included below (Stalled), I didn’t use quite the method Kirsty describes on her blog – she creates a poem directly on the photocopied page (like the example above from Ezra Miller’s blog), whereas in my poem I typed the words up and inserted line breaks where I wanted them. However, like Kirsty, I didn’t add or change any words or change their order.

The method I used was: (i) photocopy a page (two pages in this case) from a book; (ii) select and highlight words, phrases and sentences to include; (iii) type them up; (iv) insert line breaks; (v) fine tune, e.g., by adding or removing words (ensuring that any words added are taken from the text and in the original order).

I have scanned and highlighted the double-page spread from a novella, A Penny Spitfire by Brindley Hallam Dennis, published by Pewter Rose Press, that I used to create the poem ‘Stalled’ (see below). I used pages 82-83 (reproduced with permission).

BHD extract

If this type of found poem is new to you, my tip would be to choose a page with plenty of words and little or no dialogue. This is a technique to play with – just have a go and see what you find.

Stalled (‘found’ in A Penny Spitfire by Brindley Hallam Dennis)

His workshop
stood untouched,
encrusted with dirt
and cobwebs.
Spiders hunted in
threads of silk.

He’d changed.
Raw edges where his
life had torn,
had hardened.
Pain turned
to numbness.

She too changed,
The simplest things
divided them.
They began to live
as strangers.

He tried to remember
what they had before
but it seemed far away.
They had lost something,
did not mesh anymore.

They could not talk
about the past.
Yet he sensed
through words they could
come back together.

But how did you do that?
How tell the things
he wanted to tell?
Even thinking about them
made him shake inside.

2. Poems ‘found’ in conversations with others

On a Writing in Healthcare course at Ty Newydd I learned about another kind of found poem from poet, tutor and cofounder of Lapidus, Graham Hartill. Graham told our group about found poems he has created from notes he made of conversations with inmates when working as a poet in a prison. This technique can be used or adapted to give someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be very creative, or who does not or cannot write much, the experience of writing a poem.

Here I describe using the technique to create a found poem about a child’s experience of World War II. My mother was 10 when WWII began. To create a found poem based on her memories I first interviewed her about the war. During the interview I made rapid notes and also recorded the conversation. Later I typed up the main ideas from her responses, sometimes but not always using her words. I played with the order of the ideas until I felt I had them grouped and in a logical order. Then I played with the lines themselves, editing and refining to turn whole sentences into the lines of a poem that I hope has rhythm and flow. Finally I checked back with Mum to see whether she was happy with my poem ‘Make do and mend’ (see below).

Make do and mend

I was 10 when war started.
We kids didn’t hear much about the fighting. Just
what was on Pathé news at the pictures.
The man had a funny voice.

None of my family joined up.
Young men had a choice: go down the pit or go to war.
My Dad was a miner, and my brothers,
those that were old enough.
I remember seeing young men on the buses though,
off to start their training.

There was an army camp near us.
The soldiers unwound electric cable
right through the village. To untangle it.
Then they wound it up again.
Our Mary tripped over it, broke her leg.
She got fifty pounds.

Clothes were on ration.
Mostly it was make do and mend.
A lot of folk knitted. Pulled out old things
to knit new. Cut down women’s dresses
to make clothes for kids.

You had to queue to get stuff.
Me and Lil walked four miles to queue for a pork pie.
Dad grew vegetables. And mushrooms.
Mushrooms were dear then.
He dug a pond in the garden and kept ducks.
God they made a mess.

He raised cockerels for Christmas.
And in our stocking: an apple, an orange
and a few pennies.
We made cakes with powered egg.
Grated carrot in the Christmas pud
made the fruit go further.
Mam could make a meal out of anything,
a ham bone and a few peas.

You couldn’t get Christmas trees.
Me and our Jamie cut the top off a holly tree.
From up the top I could see a Lancaster
belly up in a field. Jamie wanted me to get down
so he could climb up and see. But I wouldn’t.
We crept along the hedges to get a better look,
snuck past the men in uniform,
the army and air force police.

One night the Germans dropped incendiaries.
Mam made us hide on a mattress under the stairs,
me, Jamie and Lil, while she stood at the door
watching planes trying to bomb the mines.
They missed. And me and Jamie crept
under the kitchen table while Mam wasn’t looking
and pinched some raisins.

…now go and find a poem or two – play, have fun, enjoy!

This post (most of it) first appeared on the Poetry Space blog.

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About Carol Ross

Interested in therapeutic writing.
This entry was posted in Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

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