Many poets have also chosen to incorporate snippets of found texts into larger poems, most significantly Ezra Pound. “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, is one of the most important poems of the 20th century. Eliot uses many different texts, including Wagnerian opera, Shakespearian theatre, and Greek mythology. Another poet who combined found elements with his poetry is William Carlos Williams.
The found poem achieved prominence in the twentieth-century, sharing many traits with Pop Art, such as Andy Warhol’s soup cans. The writer Annie Dillard has said that turning a text into a poem doubles that poem’s context. “The original meaning remains intact," she writes, “but now it swings between two poles.”
Here are some tips to try out found poetry using your writer’s notebook material. I have included an example from my own notebook as a mentor text. Enjoy!
Focus Lesson: Strategy for Looking for Poems in Notebook Material: (“Found Poems”)
- Look for entries that have vivid images in them – words that sound like poetry.
- Use my notebook entry on how to groom a horse to show how to do this and explain it or the entry on “The Gift We Give to Our Students.” (This means you have to be a writer, too!)
- Be sure to emphasize that this is not an entry where I was trying to write something poetic – I just found poetry material in it.
- Maybe mention Vinnie’s on campouts as an example of a good place to start looking for found poems. (If you are asking your students to bring their writer’s notebook with them each time they come to a writing conference, you will start to log noticings that will be helpful later on – like Vinnie has many descriptions of camping and how he feels about camping out with his family!)
- Ask my students to spend some of their writing time looking to see what they’ve got in their entries that might be used for poetry drafts.
Here is part of one of my notebook entries (“The Gift We Give to Our Students” written at a Continuity Session of the PA Writing & Literature Project):
Every day, students enter the classroom with so many things they carry around inside their head and their heart. Sometimes, these things are light and happy, yearning to be shared. Sometimes, they are heavy and weigh them down. For me, I think it is important to begin each new day with a mantra, “ I will paint a masterpiece today.” I first heard teacher/author Frank Murphy speak about this idea, and it stuck with me. Striving to make each day a joyful experience is just as important as making it an academic one. And so we must listen – really listen – to their heartbeats, to our students as they talk to each other and to us.
After selecting some words, phrases, and sentences and deciding what I would like to repeat, I came up with this found poem from my own writing and added a line at the end that was not part of the original writing (I call this a choice of wildcard.):
Listen to their heartbeats, to their talk.
Students carry so much in their head,
Carry so much in their heart:
Happy things that must be shared,
Heavy things that weigh them down.
Strive to make each day joyful;
Paint a masterpiece today!
Listen, really listen to their heartbeats…
Can you hear them?
Give it a try! Search for found poems within the entries of your own writer's notebook. Then try newspaper and magazine articles, read alouds, famous speeches, and books the students choose for independent reading. Poetry is everywhere!