Poetics Linda J. Austin Found Poetry

Poetics Linda J. Austin Found Poetry

If something isn’t lost, can you find it? Of course you can if you are writing found poetry. In its purest form, found poetry is poetry assembled from non-literary sources—can labels, road signs, clothing tags, picture titles, advertisements, etc. At some point it became acceptable to lift an entire section of text and arrange it using poetic devices. All of the text had to be used, nothing could be deleted and nothing could be added. I assume the poet could put a title on the piece.

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Annie Dillard, published a book of found poems—”Mornings Like This,” and she changed the rules. She lifted lines of text from various books (one book per poem), discarded the original intent, arranged the lines into a poem. Dillard dropped words from the text. She did not add any words of her own, except for the title. She always credited the source.

When I began writing found poems I used Dillard’s technique, and added the option of changing the tense of words.

There are a couple of ways to write a found poem. Pick up a book, find a line you like, write it down—find the second line—create the poem as you go. This works well for free verse or haiku. If you are creating a form poem, such as a villanelle, sestina, cinquain, etc., you will need to gather lines you like and then see if you can arrange them to fit the chosen form. Rhyme is difficult but it can be done.

Writing found poetry can help you grow as a poet. You’ll see new word relationships, new ways of developing thoughts. You’ll put lines together that you may have never thought of yourself. You will hear sounds and you’ll find fresh imagery. Some sources urge poets to start with “found” lines and then add to them. That is using “found” lines as a trigger. Adding your own words is not creating found poetry. Found poetry is all about being a good editor, having a good ear, learning how to “shape” a poem. It will push your poetry to another dimension as long as you are “crafting,” not merely presenting a “list” of lines. Found poetry is not a poetry-generating machine. Good found poetry takes work.

It is difficult to get found poetry published. Many magazines and journals are concerned about copyright issues. Some may require you to obtain a release from your source before they will publish your work, some don’t. According to copyright law, you are allowed to create new works from existing works. Crediting the source is what keeps your found poetry from being plagiarism. I always place the source information with the title—it immediately tells a reader, “This is a found poem.”

Ready to get to work? Here are the details:

ALWAYS, always, always list the source information BEFORE you start recording phrases. Once you get involved with found poetry, you will find yourself jotting lines on whatever is handy, thinking you will remember the source. You won’t.

Use only the words, phrases, sentences from your source.
Don’t add any words.
You can delete words.
You can change the tense of a word.
You can repeat words, phrases, sentences.
You must credit your source.
You can add an epigram from another source, or create your own with words from your source.

Cento—another form of found poetry. The only lines you can use to create a cento are lines from other poems. The lines you choose must stay just as they are written—you cannot make any changes or drop any words. All the poems can be by the same poet. Look at an index of first lines—this is a great source for writing a cento. You can repeat a line if you wish. After your cento is complete, at the end of it list the poem and poet for each line—the source information will be as long as the poem.

Be sure to read the found poems in this month’s T-Zero. You can submit questions about found poetry to me, and I’d also enjoy seeing your found poetry. Send them to: Jane_Austin_too@hotmail.com.

Dying, a Cento from poems by Charles Wright

Noon in the early September rain,
beyond wisdom, beyond denial,
a little aura between the slats of Venetian blinds,
ways immense and without names.

Waiting for darkness and a place to shine
east of me, west of me, full of summer.
Last night’s stars and last night’s winds
roll the darkness aside as they rise to enter the real world.

The point of the mask is not the mask but the face underneath.
The watchers, the holy ones know this, no shortcut to the sky,
tweaking the beaches with their tremulous sighs –
neither of which we know, and neither of which knows us.

As one who has never understood the void, should I?
One “the” in a world of “a”
yellowing elsewhere, in somebody else’s album,
my life, this shirt, which I want to take off.

Words caught in a sweet light endurable,
unlike the one they lead to
unlike our suffering, so easy, so difficult.
When we die we die. The wind blows away our footprints.

(Sources: Cicada / Easter 1989 / Reading Rorty and Paul Celan One Morning in Early June / Cicada / Looking Outside the Cabin Window, I Remember a Line by Li Po / After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard / Under the Nine Trees in January / Easter 1989 / Chickamauga / Still Life on a Matchbox Lid / Sprung Narratives / Blaise Pascal Lip-syncs the Void / Under the Nine Trees in January / Broken English / Tennessee Line / Reading Lao Tzu Again in the New Year / An Ordinary Afternoon in Charlottesville / An Ordinary Afternoon in Charlottesville / Miles Davis and Elizabeth Bishop Fake the Break / The Silent Generation)

Cinquain – Pale Blue Egg Within
(Source: Coldwater Creek Catalog # HWJ 1228)

drift down to nest.
Purpled storm clouds thunder
in a hammered silver circle
ghosts dance.

Catch them
by the armful
reclaim their way of life.
Stroke the blazing sun as it sets.
See them

spin in
a whoosh of wind –
new life it promises.
Fireflies flicker in waning light
as if

branching pathways
the tree that holds them both
orange and terra cotta red

the next
solar eclipse –
magenta striations
that took eons to make this rock

rise with the dawn
plucked from an old river
life sets into the Mojave

(Source: Wright Morris, Earthly Delights, Unearthly Adornments, 1978)

On a bench of planks, facing the sea
I share the view with a person unknown to me.
This is a tiresome but durable dilemma…

I soon turn away rather than admit to what I see.

My imagination falters when confronted
with the elderly grey face of the teacher,
my father’s clenched-teeth smile,
my compelling need to see what is invisible…

the somber stillness of the day
made ominous by the sea’s ignorance,
a slave ship becalmed in the bay.
Human nature, customs
fed on honeydew
burn with beginnings.
A violet, orange prismatic aurora
fastened in the far horizon
drizzles in men’s souls.

I soon turn away rather than admit to what I see.

Come for a stroll with me
the voice whispers.
He wants to see clearly.
One thing is almost like another
ego satisfactions and evasions.

The tribe opens the door, teeters toward
the beast of war
bleeds extravagantly.
The gift of hope
in the acid primal ooze.

I soon turn away rather than admit to what I see.

Study of Morning
(Source: David Weitzman, Pouring Iron, 1988)

swoops in
windows high,
rapping on cordwood,
swimming in gold grassy waters.
A trickle, then a torrent streams down dancing with dust.

About the Author
Linda J. Austin’s found poem Not An Elegy was published in the journal Diner. She continues to work on her collection of found poetry, titled Hammered Silver. Linda can sometimes be found facilitating poetry classes at WVU. She writes a Caregiving/Terminal Illness newsletter and is studying thanatology.