Found poetry is the literary version of a collage. Poets select anything from traditional texts like books, magazines, newspapers to nontraditional texts like product packaging, menus, receipts, junk mail, letters, speeches, court translations, graffiti, street signs, etc. Poets excerpt words and phrases from these texts and refashion them to create new pieces. An important component of found poetry involves the rearrangement of language in order to invent a poem that is distinct from the source text. Poets employ a variety of techniques to create found poetry, including:
- Erasure: Poets take a page or two of an existing text and erase the majority of the text, leaving behind select words. When these words are read in linear order, they compose a poem. Austin Kleon is a great example of a poet using erasure techniques to create his Newspaper Blackout Poems.
- Free-Form excerpting and remixing: Poets excerpt phrases and words in any order from their source text(s) and rearrange them in any manner.
- Cento: Poets unite verses and passages from other authors’ writings to form a new poem in a completely new order. Here, the original passages remain intact. The main intervention of the poet comes in the arrangement of passages and form.
- Cut-up: Poets physically cut out words and phrases out of source texts and rearrange the cutouts to create a poem. Arrangement in words and phrases can be intentional or by chance. This concept of the found poem can be traced back to the Dadaism art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century, but was popularized in the 1950s and early 1960s by William S. Buroughs, whom actually used this method in his novels!
It’s National Poetry Month! Now that you know how to create a found poem, try to create your own and share your results with us! We’d love to hear which technique you used and how you found your initial source text as well! If you’d like to take your writing a step further, also checkout our online writing workshop course!