One Writer’s Prose is Another Writer’s Poem

I’ve recently been interested in found and erasure poetry, or poems created from other texts. Since I’ve been doing a lot of theory work and craft essays on @SocialLit these poems are a fun way to remain inspired without draining too much creative juice. It can be meditative to go through a text, especially bland articles like manuals, textbooks, or instructions, and select words that stand out in order to find the poetics hidden within them. It’s also rather emblematic of the poetic process, as seeking out the meaningful in the mundane is something I strive to do in my work.

I’ve been submitting some of these pieces around with two published poems to my credit so far: “90’s Power Hour” a poem comprised of lyrics from popular 90’s songs and “John Wayne Rides Off Into Sunset Blvd” which uses John Wayne’s list of IMDB acting credits as a source. Two more famous examples of found poetry include The O Mission Repo a poem made from the 9/11 Commission Report by Travis Macdonald and Of Lamb a poem made from the autobiography of English Essayist Charles Lamb whose sister’s name “Mary” appeared so often in the text it inspired poet Matthea Harvey and illustrator Amy Jean Porter to cast an eerie spin on the classic nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Despite the fact that the text is found somewhere else, every writer, or finder, brings a little something different to the table that helps establish their unique voice and style. For example, I’ll often take grammar and punctuation from the text to make my pieces grammatically correct whereas many people choose to leave punctuation behind. Every writer can have their own rules for what they write or find, nothing is set in stone. Found poetry functions on a kind of Honor System since nobody can really know whether or not the writer is actually using the source they say they are, even if a meticulous critic also read the exact same text it’d be challenging to tell if the writer was cheating by adding in extra words.

Found poetry is considered by many to be gimmick or simply the latest fad in the writing world. This is probably due to the fact that they’re hard poems to critique and workshop because it’s not the writer’s words per say. It’s difficult to give and receive the kind of critical feedback expected in high level workshops like “change this specific word” or “rearrange this phrasing”, when what’s really being said is: “go back and keep looking”. On top of that, anyone can find anything; different words will inevitably stand out to different people and different words might even stand out to the same person every time they revisit a text. For example, if two years from now I were to go back and try to write 90’s Power Hour I might find different lyrics of the songs standing out to me.

I’m not sure what the history of the found poem is and I certainly have no idea what its future will be. But I imagine this has always happened in some form or fashion. It’s important for poets to remember not to take themselves too seriously and finding poetry in unexpected, and often strange, texts is just one way I keep things light.

-Welch

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