Found poetry

Similar to “found objects” in the visual arts (the most famous is Marcel Duchamp’s
Fountain), found poetry takes snippets of language from everyday speech, technical jargon, or the world of advertising out of their original setting, pressuring the reader/listener to hear “ordinary” language anew. Depending on how much the poet tweaks the found text, the original meaning may be apparent or completely submerged. While the technique is often associated with absurdism or goofiness, the emotional and conceptual range of found poetry is as broad as any other form.

  • Bruce Covey, “Flat: Sentences from the Prefaces of Fourteen Science Books” from Glass is Really a Liquid (No Tell, 2010). Covey, a visiting professor of creative writing at Emory a few years ago, is a tremendously entertaining writer and performer.
  • Judith Goldman’s “dicktée,” in Vocorder (New York: Roof, 2001). As critic Sianne Ngai explains, the poem is “composed of every single word in Melville’s Moby-Dick that begins with the letters un-, in the exact order in which those words appear,” yielding “a hyperbolic version of the collage of quotations compiled by the Sub-Sub-Librarian in Melville’s novel” (Ngai 258-59). (For comparison, here are the “Extracts” with which Moby-Dick opens.) The poem’s title is an amalgam of Moby-Dick and Dictée, an innovative, bilingual long poem by Korean-American poet Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.
  • Hart Seely, “The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld,” Salon 2 Apr. 2003. Rumsfeld was a former U.S. secretary of defense with a gift for gnomic phrasings. Seely quipped that Rumsfeld’s political speeches, conceived as poems, evoke William Carlos Williams‘ “dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular” and Frank O’Hara’s “gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements.” (See for yourself.) The columnist has also compiled “poetry” by Sarah Palin and Roger Clemens. “The Poems of Donald Rumsfeld” is both satirical (in that it uses humor to expose a public figure’s flaws or foibles) and parodic (in that it mocks a genre or style of writing by using it to represent something low or unliterary).
  • If you’re intrigued–or irritated–you may use this as an opportunity to write about one of these poems or techniques, to research the history and theories behind the form for your longer presentation, or compose a found poem of your own. This would count as one of your blog entries, and I will judge it for its conceptual originality, cohesion, and aural/visual appeal.

    For further reading:
    Goldsmith, Kenneth. Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. Google Books. Web. 25 Mar. 2012.
    Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.
    Perloff, Marjorie. Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010. Print.
    —. “Found Poetry.” The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012. Credo Reference. Web. 20 January 2013.


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