notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
A talented creative writing student of mine taught me how to write a “found” poem. She showed me a marked-up page of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a favorite book of hers, and then handed me a poem she “wrote” by taking various phrases, words, and names and mixing them up to make a new work.
At first I had an issue with this–in a way, it seemed like plagiarism, since they weren’t really her words, but Vonnegut’s. A found poem might appear to demonstrate a lack of effort or imagination on behalf of the writer, but once I actually attempted to write my own I realized just how difficult this rearranging of thoughts and imagery could be.
I assigned the found poetry assignment to another class of mine, a freshman composition course, and was startled to see how many students really enjoyed it; many even cited it as a favorite activity in their end-of-term course evaluations.
Found poems can be found anywhere: museum exhibits, essays, newspaper pages, magazine advertisements, pages from a favorite book, or even other poems. It can be metered, free verse, with stanzas or without. I think it’s a great tool to use in the classroom when teaching poetry, and can be given to students of almost any age.
Here’s a short and quick found poem I wrote this morning while reading Joan Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That,” a favorite of mine:
it was summertime
ambiguities and second starts
was anyone ever so young?
a flood of summer rain in a city
only for the very young
I did not belong there
did not come from there
except on a certain kind of evening
so goodbye to all that, and I waved–
it would never be quite the
If you’re interested in reading more found poems before writing your own, check out the blog Verbatim Found Poetry here.