That venerable resource, Wikipedia, defines “Found Poetry” as “a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning.” A bit like sampling in rap songs or creating a YouTube video by splicing together bits of speech from a public figure. Or, if you’re old school, cutting words out of a magazine to create an anonymous note for love or ransom.
Teachers believe that creating found poems is a great exercise for young writers. One educational website suggests that “This process of recasting the text they are reading in a different genre helps students become more insightful readers and develop creativity in thinking and writing.” That may be true. But this recasting also has important implications for the reader, for the original author, and for the text itself. For as we transform prose into poetry, meaning can shift, expand, or crystalize.
I was inspired by these ideas to give the process a go in a graduate seminar I taught this spring on “Communication and Identity.” In one of the final weeks of the semester, we were considering issues of changing feminist identity, using my blog as one of our references. I asked students to choose a blog post and create a found poem. Here are a few of the results.
First, from Luke Brenneman, a poem based on my blog post Brides, Brides, Brides.
Brides, Brides, Brides.
Wardrobe, Wardrobe, Wardrobe.
White cotton lace dress
Long, full sleeves
Baby’s breath in her hair
White and yellow roses with baby’s breath and ivy
Pastel green dresses for attendants
Columns, columns, columns.
News? News? News?
Tedious, inordinate work
For Women’s section writers and editors.
Minimize, minimize, minimize!
Undress the wedding.
Brides out, feature stories in,
On the front page on Sunday—well…
For a week, until daddy says,
“Call the governor!”
Is there a place in the world for it after all?
Change, Coverage, Inclusion.
Started with brides, led to communities.
Fifty years later, some things have changed.
Wedding is undressed—not even a request.
Same-sex in, parents can be out.
Social class remains (sadly).
Brides, Brides, Brides.
Should we publish them at all?
Love made public with a column in the paper.
To clip and keep for the rest of her life.
There should be a place in the world for that.
Next, from Melissa Framer, a poem based on my post A Woman of Her Times.
A great woman
A world split open
By a powerful grip that molds the actions
Change, civil rights, second wave feminism.
Picture on the society page, she gave parties.
Mixed business with pleasure- overwhelming influence.
While doing “good things” in Los Angeles…our Real World?
Global fights against colonial oppressors,
Hegel, Marx, Aristotle. HISstory? Progress.
Does the historical context drive the trajectory of society?
Beg. Bleed. While smashingly dressed.
And finally, from my post To Ms. or Not to Ms., a poem by Steven Hitchcock:
When it comes to honorifics in newspapers, women have never been easy.
Decades of confusion, and conflation.
Language steeped in ideologies of the past.
Some argue that these are of little consequence.
Yet while men are masters, women are mistresses.
The individual is prefixed by agency.
Prefixed by a history not lived.
While one stands alone, the other is forced to lean.
There are many things I love about these poems. Luke’s take on Brides, Brides, Brides captures the pace of newsroom life – and of change in the feminist movement of the time – in captivating rhythm. Melissa’s poem about Maggie Savoy reflects the tension felt by a woman living during that time period. There is a hardness – a violence – in this rendering that took me by surprise. Maggie’s life seen as “Prisoner. Beg. Bleed. While smashingly dressed.” is a refraction that made me uncomfortable – a good thing, I think. Steven’s poem distilled a descriptive blog post about the way women are referred to in newspaper articles into an indictment of the continuing power of patriarchy. The second half of this short poem is particularly powerful: Yet while men are masters, women are mistresses / The individual is prefixed by agency / Prefixed by a history not lived / While one stands alone, the other is forced to lean.
When I first read those lines, I was struck by their simplicity and truth. I found myself thinking “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” Then I realized I did. Well, sort of.