How to Write a Found Poem

Found poetry is the literary version of a collage. The poems are made up of text that was never meant to be a poem, like a newspaper article, speech, menu, or even junk mail. The poet selects words and rearranges them to create a poem. I love writing found poems, since I am restricted by the words I can use, my poems usually end up being very different from the poems I usually write.

Here’s my attempt, use the slider on the images to switch from the before text to my final found poem.

I found the poem, MISTAKE, from words on one page of the Great Gatsby. 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 since the title, came from the working text!

HERE ARE THE RULES:

  1. Select a page of text.
  2. Underline or highlight specific words in your document, specific nouns and verbs, 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. Go back to the document and find pronouns as you need them. 
  6. Your poem will usually end up being about an entirely different subject from that of the original grouping of text.
  7. You get bonus points if you find the title in the text as well.
  8. Try to keep the words as they were found without additions or omissions.
  9. The poetry form (line breaks, stanzas) is left to the poet.
  10. Take care to find only words or a small grouping of words (not full phrases) as not to plagiarize.

BEHIND THE POEM

Some of the earliest found poetry was written by poet, Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) in the reworking of his book, Testimony, which is based on court testimony about Nazi death camps during World War II.