When I returned to teaching in October 2015 after a 14-year hiatus, not only did it seem hard to find the time to write, but it also became a challenge to find what to write. The words just were not there. I was learning to juggle motherhood with full-time employment, exhaustion like a shadow. Some of my new teacher friends went out for drinks after work, but I went home to my own happy hour, writing. I spent nights combing through old poems, revising them until I passed out, but no new poems would come. When a found poetry challenge put on by ELJ appeared for National Poetry Month last year, I decided to commit myself to writing 30 found poems. After all, found poetry has been a love of mine since 2013 when my first found poem, Classroom Jottings, was published in The Found Poetry Review. Since then, my found poems have made their way into journals such as North Dakota Quarterly, concis, Prelude, Deep Water Journal, After the Pause, and Whale Road Review (forthcoming). I successfully participated in the intense month-long found poetry projects Pulitzer Remix and PoMoSco, both sponsored by The Found Poetry Review, so why couldn't I make time to find inspiration again? But what would I use as my source?
Shortly before I returned to the workforce, I cared for my mother during her five-month illness. Everyday my dad would complete the crossword puzzle and then hand me the puzzle page so I could work the word jumble. After Mother's death, he continued to save the page for me and I'd pick them up every few days when I visited; but the visits were now few and far between. Still he stacked the newspapers for me until we could meet in person. Piles and piles of unsolved word jumbles accumulated beside my computer, on the kitchen table, and in my car. Maybe one day I'd have the luxury to peruse them.
Well, when the ELJ challenge came up, I decided to use crossword puzzle clues as my inspiration for found poems. I soon found myself writing two and three new found poems a day. My joy was returning, hope was in my hands. I even had time to work the word jumbles.
That is why I'm here today, to suggest you write found poems if you ever find yourself at a loss for words. But first let me tell you a little about found poetry.
What is Found Poetry?
True to its name, a found poem is a poem written with words found. Variants of found poetry are remixes, blackout poems, and erasures. Sources range from newspapers and magazine articles to menus and billboards; wherever there are words, there is a poem to be found. I have even used fortunes from fortune cookies to write a poem. Many poets of found poetry select classic literature, newspaper or magazine articles as their source texts. Here is a found pantoum I wrote using John Updike's Rabbit at Rest. It was published in After the Pause.
Errors in the Morning Paper *
Torn between a desire to strike and conquer
or form an alliance, the docile kid is a ghost
humored with noises, a habit he can't break.
Words drift away like the speech of old people
or form an alliance, the docile kid is a ghost.
Trees in August point in different directions
words drift away like the speech of old people
as he tells his body to do something it won't.
Trees in August point in different directions
pendulous gold earrings shape into Brazil nuts
as he tells his body to do something it won't
women drive into buses, spare him humiliation.
Pendulous gold earrings shape into Brazil nuts
like the people on porch steps when he was a boy
women drive into buses, spare him humiliation
the morning paper with eight errors a task.
The people on porch steps when he was a boy
humored with noises, a habit he can't break
the morning paper with eight errors, a task
torn between a desire to strike and conquer.
*Found poem. Source text: Updike, John. Rabbit at Rest. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2012. Print.
What Found Poetry is Not
Reading an article on how to grow an orchid, collecting words and phrases from that article, and then writing a poem about how to grow an orchid is not a found poem-- using those words to write a poem about the beach is what it's all about. The content of the poem must veer off from the source, or origin, itself. For my example, I found words in this paragraph to create a non-found poem.
a found poem is not
found if not
from found origin
Citing Found Poetry
At the bottom of each found poem, it is important to cite the source text. MLA style is highly recommended. I use the website www.citationmachine.net to search for the correct citation. Because there are many publishers of classics now, I like entering the ISBN number. The generator takes me through several steps before the final product. I can then copy and paste to my clipboard. If a novel with a living author is sourced, contact the author and get permission first.
Since April is National Poetry Month, I challenge you to find time to write found poems. Start with a notebook and jot down words or phrases that sing to you. Who knows? You just might find you like it.
One more challenge: Can you count up the number of times I used find/found in this article? After all, to start writing found poems, you have to find the right words no matter how long it might take. Good luck!
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Laurie Kolp lives in Southeast Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs. She has recently returned to teaching after a 14-year hiatus during which she published a full-length collection of poetry, Upon the Blue Couch (Winter Goose Publishing) and chapbook Hello, it’s Your Mother (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in Rust + Moth, concis, Bracken, Up the Staircase, The Leveler, PITH, and more. Laurie's poem, In a Fallen World, recently won the Front Porch Journal's Ekphrasis challenge, and her winning poems have been published twice in Writer's Digest. Lover of running, almonds, and key lime pie, Laurie is forever in search of the best word. Learn more about Laurie at www.lauriekolp.com.
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