Previously, I blogged about West York Area High School history teacher and poet Melissa Carl’s participation in Pulitzer Remix, a National Poetry Month project sponsored by the Found Poetry Review.
I thought we could talk a bit more about found poetry, since Versify is having its own Found Poetry Twitter Project, and check in with Melissa.
At just past the halfway point, Melissa said she’s still going strong, though she’s no longer working ahead.
“I think that the part of the challenge that puts the most pressure on me is the one-per-day in conjunction with my innate sense of perfectionism,” Melissa said in an email. ”If I were not that concerned about quality, a poem a day is not all that difficult, but I have a problem just putting something up because I ‘have to.’”
If you’re following Melissa’s progress, you know that her poems are terse and tight, but rhythmic and rich with imagery. Her thoughtfulness about them is evident. She said she’s happy with all of them but one. (I won’t tell you which one because it might be your favorite!)
“The most rewarding part … of the challenge,” she added, “is what I always find rewarding about found poetry — the surprising turns of phrase and poetic concepts that one finds when working with a prescribed text, the combinations that you make because other, more obvious alternatives and choices may not be available — such as my dog character in the poem ‘Evolution,’ for example.”
A few weeks ago, before Pulitzer Remix began, Melissa confessed that found poetry was “a relatively new pursuit” of hers, something she’d experimented with a little bit and liked. She sent a poem to the Remix project’s sponsor, Found Poetry Review, where it was published. A few centos and a Facebook status update poem later and she “found” herself working from nonfiction texts like “Galileo’s Daughter” and “The History of Salt.”
Incidentally, found poems are often — and perhaps most satisfyingly — created using texts that have nothing to do with poetry. Encyclopedias, science and medical journals, speeches and text messages might not seem poetic in their intended contexts, but, as Melissa said, the reward is creating a new context with some of the same words, and having that new order and context succeed as a poem.
A bit more about forms of poetry that incorporate existing texts, under the umbrella of found poetry:
- Cento – a poetic work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors, only disposed in a new form or order
- Erasure – erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the
As previously mentioned, Carl is working through one chapter of “The Killer Angels” at a time, selecting words and phrases that interest her, and building poems from them. She’s avoiding the blackout or erasure approach and making her choices intuitively, allowing a theme or motif to emerge and working with it.
I have to say, I think that’s the more difficult approach. I don’t think it would be as challenging to take a page from Shaara’s novel and simply black out some words and call what remained a poem.
As Carl herself said, using poetic forms “exposes bad writing.”
But working within the perceived constraints of a form can also push poets down paths they might not normally have taken.
“I often find forms to be very freeing, as opposed to constraining. The form allows you to rise to its challenge, and you do what you need to do to make it work,” Carl admitted.
As someone fairly new to found poetry myself, I think that to fully give yourself over to the form is to trust yourself. You’re linking works and images around a new narrative you can see in your mind, but you only have someone else’s words to do it.
In a different context, if you really want a cup of juice, but the only words you’re allowed to use are “mug” and “beer,” you have two choices: You can be disappointed as you fixate on the juice you can’t have, or you can be happy to quench your thirst, and might discover you love beer.
Have you ever written, or would you write, a found poem?