Friday, May 3, 2013

Found Poems

Recently I learned about "found poems." These are poems that you assemble from parts that you find either in a written text, or from your notes based on spoken words that you hear during the day.  I had actually made them before without knowing what they were called: sometimes, in a class, I would take notes on what was being said and then pull out phrases from the notes to make a sonnet about the lecture.

The New York Times Learning blog reminded me that this could be a good exercise for students. My 9th grade home schooling students were learning about Romantic era poetry, so I thought the found poetry exercise would be a fun and edifying thing for them to try. I was amazed at how well they did!  Here are some of their poems, based on written texts pulled from The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine.

This poem's words and phrases were pulled from a fiction story in The New Yorker:

The Cry of Butterflies

I heard the wings of monarch butterflies.
They were all muted but trying to cry.

It had been taken, all their alive voice.

They did not care or surrender the choice.

A couple of them more or less still call,

A couple with voices out of them all.

This one, too, is quite powerful:

At the age of twelve I was growing up

I knew that I was a singer

Songs were fast and powerful to me then

Listening to my  roaring voice

A memory of a musical life

I would listen to songs of joy

In my sleep I would imagine a life

A  life of songs and melodies

I knew nothing of the dull and quiet life

I blame my mistake on my youth

I now only see the beauty of songs

When I fall asleep

This one has a kind of journalistic feel to it, yet the poetry is definitely there:

In the summer the neighborhood in blossoms

United and resilient.

In May America announced success.

Al Qaeda at its weakest.

U.S. harden the war on terror.

Al Qaeda decentralized.

Detroit In blossoms like a summer day.

I wrote a few of these found poems too, just as examples, and also to exorcise some negative feelings about the news.  Using ugly news to make something beautiful  feels like a kind of revenge.


People culled with unnerving frequency:

What a pity. What a moron. Few tears

Are shed: cartoon time bombs, calamities

Meant to land harmlessly, from our forebears.

As window into human misfortune

(Its young men diverting themselves), the foul

Ball entered the head of his companion.

She instantly expired, a parable.

A violent blow in the bowels, pathos,

Mayhem wrought through the rigging, in the shrouds,

Allowing guns anywhere around dogs,

Suffering inadvertent suicides:

Gunfail.  An unpredictable substance

Framed in religious terms, as Providence.

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