SunWinks! Gather Writing Essential Sunday July 14, 2013: Found Poetry

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Dear Gather Diaspora:

I’m an approval junkie.

I went to school until I was 40, and when I was finally done, I went through a brutal period of adjustment.  The reason is that when you’re in school, well, when I’m in school, I get a continuous stream of approbation.  Hand in a piece of homework, get a grade.  Take a quiz, get a grade.  Write a piece of music, perform it for the class.

It’s impossible to overstate the inspiration Gather has been to my writing.  The kind comments, the eager responses, the enthusiasm for writing in general, makes me want to write more and more, and better and better.  When Gather crashed, so did I.  I didn’t have another writer community and haven’t found one.  And the writing just stopped happening.

It does happen that this has been a hectic time.  Mom and Dad have been having health crises right and left.  I’m also busy trying to figure out how to make a little money at this sort of thing, without selling my soul to The Man, be it writing, editing, even transcribing.  So, without my Gather community looking over my shoulder, it’s all too easy for the creative writing to go by the boards.

Another thing: I never dreamed the crash would last so long, and yet there is still hope for resumption of business as usual.  So there’s a kind of limbo, of ambiguity, in that circumstance as well.

Anyway, it looks like Gather will come back eventually.  My Mom has righted her ship quite a bit (after multiple trips to the ER with what we’ve ultimately determined were panic attacks due to anticipatory grief), and Dad has settled into his situation, with ample support from the nursing home and hospice program.  So I thought I would throw up a hairball and see if anybody barks.  Not promising to follow up with another in another week.  (Then again, the GWE post feed seems to be back, so that’s a huge step forward.  We’ll see what happens.)  But in the long term, it looks like I’m not going anywhere.


Years ago, I was introduced to the idea of “found art” by an exhibitor at Marylhurst University, who placed a fiberglass shower enclosure in an outdoor parking lot.  It was entitled, “Untitled: Found Object”.  There is a wonderfully droll scene or two in the movie Ghost World involving the concept of found art; one student’s sculpture project consists of a tea cup and a tampon.

The other day, I found a remarkable book at Goodwill (in the Religion section, but that’s another article) called The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms edited by Ron Padgett (Teachers and Writers Collaborative, NY, 1989).  Mr. Padgett understands that a poetic form doesn’t have to include requirements for syllables, feet, meter, and number of lines, any more than the symphonic form requires a single time signature, x number of measures, y themes, and z recapitulations.  In addition to terza rima, triolet, tercet, and tanka, the book includes, to its enormous credit, examinations of blues, rap, spoonerism, acrostics, parody, insult poems, performance poetry, Skeltonic verse, and word play—74 entries in all.

One of the quirkiest and most delightful is “found poetry.”  Too simply put, found poetry is taking a short piece of prose—not intended as poetry—and breaking it into short lines for what you hope will be a surprisingly poetic effect.  The following example from the book is from a note on someone’s refrigerator:

Dear Mom
I ate all my lunch
And went back to school.
I am all washed up.

Some considerations, paraphrased from the book:

  • the closer the intent of the original comes to consciously writing in poetic language, the less it qualifies as found poetry.
  • Found poetry may be drawn from snatches of conversation, children’s notes, newspaper articles, any other “incidental” use of language.
  • Stay alert to those
    • exceptional uses of language or
    • sharply presented, telegraphic [by which I think he means terse] stories
    • that create a poetic effect
    • or an emotional response as strong as that made by a poem.
  • Changing, adding or omitting words is not permitted (however, says Padgett, this rule is frequently broken).
  • What the “poet” (you) does do is decide where the “poem” will begin and end, where the lines will break, and other typographic considerations.
  • The odd thing, and the effect to be strived for, is how the found words seem to take on added power when removed from their original context and presented alone.

Below are some experiments I came up with.  The first is a lampoon of e.e.cummings.  It raises an interesting question:  was it poetry before I played with the typography?  Is it poetry now?  How much of cummings’ poetry would fail as poetry without the typographic whimsy?

Other entries are more or less serious and treat their sources respectfully (see #5 and 6), while others are high camp.  The second entry is a personal ad on Craigslist.  But think about it:  isn’t the writer, after all, a woman who is trying to communicate her vision of herself and the romantic adventure she desires in the most compelling and descriptive language she can marshal?  To wit:

I’m low maintenance
with a curling iron in my hand

is an adroit little piece of symbolism.  And this extraordinary trope on the knight-in-shining-armor archetype:

Sweep me off my feet and
put me on my knees

Both sorts of exercises—serious and campy—yield interesting results and may force you to look at words and writing in a little different light.   In this case, I think we really did find some poetry.  What do you think?

*** 1 ***




whose fleece


white ass now.


And every

where                           that

Maryw ent


the lamb



2 go.


Mother Goose

*** 2 ***


I’m low maintenance

with a curling iron in hand…


I’m seeking an old school,

chivalry is not dead,

sweep me off my feet and

put me on my knees

(when appropriate)



You’re masculine,


a true top and daddy type


None of this silly boy,


soft butch nonsense.

You are all butch,

and you know the meaning of true

butch/femme dynamics.


You hold doors,

you wear ties,

you walk with direction,

and you give it



*** 3 ***


Scooby Dooby Doo

is an atheist propaganda cartoon

that reached its zenith

during the turbulent,

drug-fueled 1960s…



always has an insatiable appetite,

one of the primary symptoms

of marijuana addiction.

The CDC reports that since the 1960s,

America has seen an 84% increase

in teenaged obese population.

The obesity rates

increase most dramatically

in demographics that have

access to a television

where Scooby Doo

airs in syndication.


The dog also represents

the dangerous concept

of evolution.


Scooby Doo climbed

the evolutionary ladder

in this show, regularly showing abilities

beyond that of a dog:

in the show, Scooby Doo showed

impossible abilities for a dog, such as:


solving a mystery,

eating sandwiches that contain onion,

drinking chocolate milkshakes.


The impossibilities

go on and on,

further destroying

the facts of life

for children.



*** 4 ***

You’ve reached the age

where giving up

isn’t who you are.  This is the

age of knowing

how to make things happen.


So why let erectile dysfunction

get in your way?

Talk to your doctor

about Viagra.


Twenty million men

already have.


tv commercial



*** 5 ***


Four score

and seven years ago

our fathers brought forth,

on this continent,

a new nation,

conceived in Liberty,

and dedicated to the proposition

that all men

are created equal.


Now we are engaged in a great civil war,

testing whether that nation,

or any nation so conceived

and so dedicated,

can long endure.


We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field,

as a final resting place

for those who here gave their lives

that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting

and proper

that we should do this.


But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—

we can not consecrate—

we can not hallow—this ground.

The brave men,

living and dead,

who struggled here,

have consecrated it,

far above our poor power

to add or detract.


Abraham Lincoln


*** 6 ***


A Young Woman In The Doorway

A voice said, “Thank you,”

so softly

that only the purest articulation

made the words intelligible,

and a young woman

came through the doorway.


She advanced slowly,

with tentative steps,

looking at Spade

with cobalt-blue eyes

that were both shy

and probing.


She was tall

and pliantly slender,

without angularity anywhere.

Her body was erect and


her legs long,

her hands and feet narrow.


She wore two shades of blue

that had been selected

because of her eyes. The hair

curling from under her blue hat

was darkly red,

her full lips

more brightly red.


White teeth glistened

in the crescent

her timid smile made.


Dashiel Hammett


The Prompt

“Write” a piece of found poetry.  NOTE:  Most of my experiments above are rather too long for this exercise.  Shoot for something on the order of 4-12 lines.

· Put sunwe in the title and tags.

· Share your post with Gather Writing Essential group.

· Put Found Poetry in the title field.

· Comment on this article with the link to your post so I’ll be sure to find it.

· I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.


Not quite as ever (but getting there!),



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© 2013 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved.  Please share this on, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy.   Doug’s latest book is The Depressed Guy’s Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.

Doug’s Gather Group is Depression and Creativity, devoted to creative writing about depression and related illnesses, and creative writing as therapy.  Please consider joining.  You can read more of Doug’s posts here.

About the Author ()

57 year old musician, poet, father of 4 grown children, composer, recording artist, author, humorist, survivor. I'm thoughtful, introspective, introverted, open, scathingly honest about myself, creative, a Renaissance guy, willing to grow and change and

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