Many years ago I started experimenting with ‘found poetry’. Defined in Wikipedia as “a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning”, my earliest examples attempted to adhere to the original text as much as possible i.e. the emphasis was on the ‘collage’ rather than any other changes or manipulation.
Some of these experiments were, I believe, reasonably successful, and a number of ‘found’ poems appear in my recently published ‘Collected Poems’.
I am, once again, dipping my toe into the water of ‘found’ poetry and – all things being equal – hope to pull together a volume dedicated to the genre over the next year or two.
The thing that has already struck me as I start to work on these fledgling pieces is how artisanal the effort is; how much it feels like being a craftsman in selecting and trimming and shaping the words I find myself using. I imagine it to be a little like a carver who goes through the process of choosing his piece of wood, imagining the physical shape that lies in wait within it, and then carefully chipping away to reveal it. There is something very satisfying about it.
There are other factors too. Found poetry allows you to take a step away from the words. After all, these are not your words, so you can be dispassionate about them, ruthless, brutal. And because they are not your words, what you find yourself working with is not – at least initially – your ‘voice’. It is the voice of the words’ author. In this sense, the collage also becomes an synthesis of styles, which allows you to create tones and shades that would be impossible if using your own words from the potentially limited palette with which we are endowed by our own creative imaginations.
The outcome is often more thematic than narrative i.e. a move away from the flow of more traditional poetry where there is, potentially, a start, middle, and end. With found poetry the ‘finished’ produce can sometimes read as a collection of related, but potentially, jarring images. This can undoubtedly be used to significant effect, especially where a striking image sits in splendid isolation. The poems can also rely on the reader to do a little more work in divining their own meaning and interpretation from what they have read. This too is probably no bad thing!
In any event, this time around I plan to be a little more ‘interventionist’ with the words and phrases I select, perhaps changing and adding a little more than previously. The ultimate goal, of course, remains to ‘add new meaning’.
From the back rooms of cheap boarding houses
small windows reveal nothing but
rusted rails emerging from grassy margins,
rosebuds faded to rusty orange.
Marooned in a bleak urban landscape,
the result of domestic politics gone badly awry
are lives stunted by persecution and secrecy.
Even as their journey unfolded
people waxed mystical about the revolution
that stood for a certain kind of freedom.
Human connection on a vast scale
claimed him as a kindred soul:
“On many levels I know what freedom is,” he said.
Years later, a bomb was primed for its inevitable explosion.
In the fight for places in the front ranks of the mourners
we discover how much his spirit pervades
remnants of lives as complicated as the machine of history.
He knew lines made of laws could be erased;
most impassable barriers, formed of words.