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2008 Laura Purdie Salas Copy freely for use in schools and other organizations Page 1

Poetic Pursuits November 2008



Found Poems: A Little More Work Than Just Finding

When I mentioned found poems as a form I would like to write about in this
column, Kelly Fineman (with whom Ill be alternating months) was happy to let
me have the topic, because she had copyright concerns with found poems.

And maybe I shouldnt call these found poems, because apparently my
definition of found poems is fairly different from the standard one.

The Poetry Dictionary, by John Drury, defines a found poem as Text
discovered in some nonpoetic setting (an advertisement, for example), removed
from its context and presented as a poem.

Yikes! Id have copyright concerns about that, too! But I think of found poems
in an entirely different way, based on writing exercises I remember doing in
elementary school and junior high. So, lets dive in and see if we can avoid
getting handcuffs slapped on us for plagiarism.

Heres my definition of a found poem: Individual words drawn from a larger
text, rearranged to create an entirely new work.

A found poem is not a form, really. There are no precise rules about lines,
syllable, or format on the page. Instead, the term describes a process for
writing poems. From the end result, though, a reader would never know it was a
found poem. Unless you tell them. Its simply a way of generating a poem. And
its a way I really enjoy!

How to Write a Found Poem

Let me give you an example.

I receive a magazine called Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Its put out by
the DNR and if full of conservation and wildlife news. In the kids section of the
Sep-Oct 2007 issue was an interesting article by Tom Anderson about how
different animals find their way home.


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The day I read the article, I needed to write my daily poem and I my poetry tank
was on empty. So I decided to write a found poem. I concentrated on one
excerpt from the article:

Wolf Ways
The largest member of the wild dog family in Minnesota is the gray wolf, or timber wolf.
Wolves live in packs and do not migrate, but their home territories sometimes cover hundreds
of square miles. Just as you learn your way around your neighborhood, wolves learn how to
get around their vast home ground to find food and shelter.
Wolves in Minnesota follow moose or white-tailed deer to hunt them. Then the wolves
somehow find their way back home. They return home by instinct, or by a sense of home that
is part of the brain and nervous system.

Good Noses
Wolves depend on their sense of smell to find the boundaries of their large home ranges. Like
your pet dog, the wolf urinates to mark its scent on stumps, rocks, or shrubs. Other wolves
pass by and "read" these scent posts -- they find out who claims the territory.
Wolves howl to communicate within a pack. If a wolf gets separated from its pack, howling
can help it reunite with the pack and its home territory.

Heres the way I write a found poem.

1. I always need a hard copy of whatever source material Im drawing
from.

2. I grab a highlighter. Then I go through and highlight all the interesting
words. The concrete ones. The specific nouns and verbs. Any words I
find evocative.

Wolf Ways
The largest member of the wild dog family in Minnesota is the gray wolf, or timber wolf.
Wolves live in packs and do not migrate, but their home territories sometimes cover hundreds
of square miles. Just as you learn your way around your neighborhood, wolves learn how to
get around their vast home ground to find food and shelter.
Wolves in Minnesota follow moose or white-tailed deer to hunt them. Then the wolves
somehow find their way back home. They return home by instinct, or by a sense of home that
is part of the brain and nervous system.

Good Noses
Wolves depend on their sense of smell to find the boundaries of their large home ranges. Like
your pet dog, the wolf urinates to mark its scent on stumps, rocks, or shrubs. Other wolves
pass by and "read" these scent posts -- they find out who claims the territory.
Wolves howl to communicate within a pack. If a wolf gets separated from its pack, howling
can help it reunite with the pack and its home territory.


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3. I read the highlighted words out loud several times. I go through them
forward, backward, and in random order. This helps me absorb the
words while losing some of the structure of the original piece.
4. I think about what meaning those words have for me. That might be
the same or totally different from their meaning in the original work.
5. I start writing my own poem (usually free verse, meaning unrhymed
and no particular line count, syllable count, etc.)


Finding Home

gray territories
cover vast miles

do not
migrate

hunt your
boundaries

learn your way
home

claim

howl

--Laura Purdie Salas

6. Youll notice that I used some small words that arent highlighted. I
start out with only words from the poem, but as I need little words, I
search for them in the article before using them.


OK, thats one example, but it reads more like an adult poem, or at least a teen
poem. So Im going to try to write one thats more definitely a childrens poem.


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I have a book I love called The Beginning, by Peter Ackroyd. In it, he describes
the history of Earth in fabulous language. So I decided to work with one small
sidebar about the formation of the moon. You can look at page 9 here to see
what Im talking about. And here it is again:



The list of words I highlighted from this passage is:

orbit
around
sun
natural
satellite
unusual
large
planet
born
made
debris
formed
simply
passing
rocks
captured
massive
object
smashed
splashing
material
contains
Moon
pieces
planet
young
Earth
takes
direct hit
hurtling
rocky
space
impact
re-melt
huge
amounts
crust
mantle
knocked
gravity
densest
shape
sphere
infant
nearer

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Youll see there is some repetition on the list because I dont keep track as I
highlight. I just mark whichever words strike me.

Now, I dont usually write found poems as rhyming poems, but Earth and birth
immediately catch my attention. So I look for other rhymes. Smashed and splashing
are close, and so are born and formed. So Im going to use forms of these words and
try a bit of rhyme.

Heres my first effort:

A Moon Is Born

after our orbiting planet formed
a hurtling rocky object smashed
into Earth

in nearby space the moon was born
when crust and mantle knocked and splashed
satellite birth

Not happy with that. Decided to try shorter:

Moon Is Born

planet forms
object smashes

into Earth

moon is born
as mantle splashes:

space-rock birth


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Not happy with the order of things. Trying again.

Moon Is Born

object smashes

rocky form
impacts Earth

mantle splashes

moon is born:
space-rock birth


OK, so Im not saying thats a genius poem! But I do kind of like it, and it was fun to
play with.

Why Write Found Poems?

I use found poems in several ways and for several reasons.

1. Theyre great for getting rid of lots of useless words from poems. Because
you have to find each small word like a or the in the original piece, it makes
you think about whether that word is really necessary.

2. Its a stepladder to a poem. Sometimes, Ill start out with a found poem and
then discover the poem wants to be something else, something that uses
words not in the original work. And thats fine! In that case, the found poem
is simply a way for me to start writing something!


3. When youre reading a piece of writing of any kind that you find wonderful,
writing a found poem is a way of processing that original work, just like you
might write a poem based on a terrific painting that you see.

4. Found poems get you using words you wouldnt necessarily think of on
your own. The restricted vocabulary is both a cage and a gift.


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Your Turn

Choose a source work of your own writing, and write a found poem from it. Note:
If you cant find plenty of concrete, interesting words to highlight, thats a sign
that the original work might need livening up, tooat least, thats what Ive
discovered when trying to write a poem based on my own work! Or find a
nonfiction article in a magazine or newspaper and write a found poem from that.
You can base found poems on anything, of course. But I find that great nonfiction
writing often offers the best raw material. Have fun!






Laura Purdie Salas is a childrens poet and nonfiction writer. She is the author of STAMPEDE! POEMS ABOUT THE
WILD SIDE OF SCHOOL (Clarion, 2009), as well as 10 poetry books for Capstone. Laura teaches online poetry
workshops and other online classes. Look for more information under Speaker & Teacher on her website at
laurasalas.com. This article first appeared in Kid Magazine Writers.