Thursday, April 17, 2008

Found Poetry

Does anyone else enjoy a dose of "found poetry" once in a while? It's always interesting to see where you can find it; looking at things in light of possible poetry really opens my eyes when I'm feeling too focused on the trivia of making a living.

Over at Wikipedia, "found poetry" is defined as "the rearrangement of words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages that are taken from other sources and reframed as poetry by changes in spacing and/or lines (and consequently meaning), or by altering the text by additions and/or deletions."

A famous incidence of found poetry was in William Whewell’s "Middle Treatise on Mechanics":

"And hence no force, however great,
can stretch a cord, however fine,
into a horizontal line
that shall be absolutely straight."

Most modern found poetry does not necessarily rhyme or scan, however unintentionally. There is more of a poetic sense being discovered in language used in a prosaic, non-literary text. Many of these found poems spring from scientific or instructional texts. There is quite a fine collection of found poems based on science and math textbooks in a recent book by Karen Solie, Modern and Normal. (Brick Books, c2005) I'll share one of these later, but I also want to point out that there are also crafters who think of found poetry like collage; they produce altered books by cutting up and repasting text to form something new. I like this example from zine writer Katie Haegele -- she had found a 1948 Boy Scout handbook, and got right to the cutting and pasting.

One line from the boyscout book said: "With simple means and using your own personal measurements, determine a height you cannot reach and a width you cannot walk." This writer was being literal, of course, warning the scouts to know their physical limitations before they braved the wilderness. But the poetic readings of a line like that go much deeper...One of the lines goes, "Call loudly for help if you are alone, and keep on calling." Good advice indeed. But when there's poetry everywhere, are you ever totally alone?

If you think you'd like to give this a try yourself, look at this essay on types of found poetry and some examples. There is also an entire blog devoted to this subject, called what else but 'found poetry'. They share traditional found poetry as well as spamku (haiku made using the subject lines of spam emails). Have fun!

From Modern and Normal:

Found : Problems (a meditation)

from Meteorology. 6th ed. Richard A. Anthes. New Jersey : Macmillan, 1992.

How pure is the typical raindrop? Explain why there is some truth
to the proverb "It's too cold to snow".

Is the dark side of the moon illuminated by earthlight as we are by

Wind power has long been used to do a very minor portion
of people's work. This is not too difficult to understand.

Is it practical?

What other factors, for example, characteristics of the wind,
have not been considered?

In which sense does the vortex turn over your bathtub drain?
Is the earth's rotation responsible? Would you expect any rotation
if your bathtub were on the equator?

Consider the magnitude of forces.

Some proverbs state that physical appearances of certain insects
and animals is an indication of future weather.
Do you doubt their validity?

How would you classify the mean or standard lapse rate
in the atmosphere as far as stability is concerned?

Why does smoke rise? Explain your answer.

~ Karen Solie


  1. Ooh, I love found poetry! I once fashioned a poem out of spam email I received...very silly!

  2. I don't want to be a sweary-McSwearer, but I farking love Karen Solie. I heard her read about a year ago, and her talent is just so unbelievably huge.

  3. Gentle Reader - I love it too. It's fun trying to find it everywhere.

    Ragdoll - So do I! (and I'm not just saying that because she's from Saskatchewan...) I wish I could have heard her read; I think she's amazing.

  4. Nabokov ends a chapter of "The Gift" with a bit of "The Communist Manifesto" done into verse, as Iin the English translation) perfect iambic pentameter.

  5. Amateur Reader - oh, I didn't know that! Sounds like I'm going to have to go get a copy just for that bit.


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