With World Poetry Day behind us and National Poetry Month just around the corner, everywhere I look I see poems. They aren’t necessarily marketed as such, but they are poetry just the same.
I’m not sure if I started noticing found poetry before or after I began reading Dave Lucas’s Poetry for People who don’t like Poetry articles. But he makes a good point; everyone loves poetry, whether they realize it or not. Song lyrics are poetry. Shakespeare is poetry. Cliches and quotes and silly rhymes and limericks are poetry–even though poetry itself is so hard to define.
You could say poetry is the opposite of prose, but that doesn’t really tell you much. You could argue it’s words broken up into lines and stanzas, but what about prose poetry? Poetry often follows a strict format of rhythm and rhyme, but what about freeverse? My favorite description is that it’s simply an attempt to capture something, whether it’s a story, a feeling, moral, idea, or even just the musicality of language. Like art, you know it when you see (or hear) it.
Found poetry is loosely defined as poetry discovered out in unexpected places, found in quotes and magazine articles, newspaper headlines, and ads for denture cream. You might edit a little out, but the purest might be read as they are with very little rearrangement. I like to break up the words into lines and stanzas, because it seems like when people see them presented this way, suddenly they recognize the poetry that was already there.
For example, this passage is from Moby Dick*:
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about–however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way–either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.
When I read that paragraph, it strikes me as prose poetry. But here it is again, broken up and trimmed slightly:
What of it,
if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks?
What does that indignity amount to?
Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks less of me,
because I promptly and respectfully obey?
Who ain’t a slave?
Tell me that.
however the old sea-captains may thump and punch me about,
I have the satisfaction of knowing
it is all right;
everybody else is
one way or other
served the same;
the universal thump is passed round,
all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades,
and be content.
Blackout poetry is one variation on this theme. By taking a magazine article or some other existing text, and simply blacking out some of the words, others are brought into focus. In this way, a poem is found in what’s left behind; it emerges, like a statue from a block of marble. Some people even blackout text to create images along with the poems.
Of course, there are just as many ways to create found poetry as there are ways to create art. Poetry can be spotted like a cheetah in the wild or picked up and collected like diamonds sparkling in the sun on a sandy beach. To find poetry, all you need to do is keep your eyes open and look.
Current and Upcoming Events:
Thursday, March 28th (6pm)
The Write Stuff This writers’ group meets at @North Canton Public Library once a month. If you’d like to check them out, bring 6-10 copies of something you’re working on. Writers break into groups based on genre and give feedback. I’ve always found it very helpful, and afterwards everyone usually goes to a local restaurant to talk–shop or otherwise.:)
Saturday, March 30th (7pm)
Book Launch party at Mac’s Backs, 1820 Coventry Rd, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118. Cat Russell and Pittsburgh-area poets Jason Irwin and Jen Ashburn will read.
Friday, April 12th
sWord Fight Tournament in Canton, Ohio. I will be a “combatant” in my first live poetry competition. Come by, and wish me luck! More details forthcoming.
Saturday, April 13th (11am – 2pm)
Local Author Fair at Massillon Public Library, 208 Lincoln Way E, Massillon, Ohio 44646. I am scheduled to read briefly, and I will also have books to sell at my table!
Friday, April 19th (630pm – 730pm)
I will be reading from my newly published book of poetry, Soul Picked Clean, as my talented artist-friend, Jim Meador, paints his version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. This event will be a paid event, $12, but the ticket includes a copy of the book. The eventbrite link will go live on April 1st, if you’d like to reserve your ticket.
Monday, April 22nd (6:30pm)
Cat Russell author talk with music by Ed Amann at the Barberton Public Library, 602 West Park Avenue, Barberton, Ohio 44203.
Saturday, April 27th (9am – 4:30pm)
Western Reserve Writers’ Conference Any writers in the area should definitely attend this free writing conference at Cuyahoga Library’s South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch. I will not be reading, but I will attend, and I’d love to see you there!
Thank you for visiting, and I hope to see you in the coming weeks at one of these events!
*image courtesy of BigFoto.com
**I picked a passage from Moby Dick, because it’s one of my favorite books that’s also in the public domain; I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. However, a quick perusal of the twitter hashtag #FoundPoetry will reveal many examples of poetry discovered in otherwise mundane circumstances.