Writing a Found Poem (no, it’s not cheating!)

Found poetry is the literary version of a collage. The poems are made up of words taken from a printed document such as a newspaper article, a speech, a menu, junk mail, or even another poem. The poet selects words from the document and rearranges them to create a poem.

Photo, with thanks, by Joshua Coleman

Found poetry feels a little like cheating because you have a group of pre-selected words to choose from but it isn’t. In fact, writing a poem in this way may be more difficult because of the limitations placed on the poet. In any case, it’s a fun challenge and since you are restricted by the words you can use, your poem will most likely end up being very different from the poems you usually write. Found poems will get you out of the box!

Here’s my attempt at a found poem with words taken from a page of the novel The Great Gatsby. The poem is pure fiction, driven by the word pool I had to work with. Use the slider in the middle of the images to switch between the before text and my final found poem.

When reading the text, I was immediately drawn to the words “get away from him,” which became my jumping-off point for the subject of the poem.

The words I ended up using are underlined in red. As you can see, I couldn’t find the word “not,” so I used part of the word “nothing”. This isn’t ideal. The best Found poems are written without additions or omissions. But, hey, I did get bonus points for the title which came from the working text! This goes to show you that not all the poems you write will be what you call “perfect” but what is perfect is your willingness to try.

  1. Select a page of text.
  2. Underline or highlight specific nouns and verbs in your document, any words you find interesting or inspiring.
  3. Write these words on a separate sheet of paper in random order. Taking them out of context will help you to see them differently.
  4. What meaning do the chosen words have? Shuffle the words around until you have written a free verse poem. 
  5. Only use each word once.
  6. Go back to the document and find pronouns as you need them. 
  7. Your poem will usually end up being about an entirely different subject from that of the original grouping of text.
  8. You get bonus points if you find the title in the text.
  9. Try to keep the words as they were found without additions or omissions.
  10. The poetry form (line breaks and stanza structure) is left to the poet.
  11. Take care to find only words or a small grouping of words (not full phrases) as not to plagiarize.
now it’s your turn:

I hope you’ll give writing a found poem a try! Post the poem and where you found the chosen words (magazine, menu, etc.) in the comments below.

Thanks for popping in!

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