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Found Poems

February 2010

All poetry is found somewhere, or in something. That's what inspiration is all about. But "Found Poetry" formalizes that mostly accidental practice.

It can serve as an antidote to writer's block. It can also offer fresh topics, language, images, and observations.

You can use newspaper articles, headlines, advertisements, junk mail, letters from others and a thousand other starting points. (See this month's blog post for some other suggestions and samples.)

The rules? In its purest form, a found poem uses only the words found in the source - no changing verb forms, making plurals etc. You can add or subtract capitalization and punctuation. And your most powerful tools, next to your careful selection and ordering, are line breaks and stanzas. I would also allow that adding an original title can sometimes make a huge difference in the way the poem will be read.

You must identify the original source either at the beginning or end of the poem. (Sometimes putting at the top ruins some poetic tension.) If the source is online, you could give a link for the reader to follow.

Found poetry is a great lesson for students because it forces them to focus on how word selection, titles and layout change the meaning of the words. Context changes everything - a good lesson for writer and reader. There's a nice "lesson plan" on the Library of Congress website for using their vast collection in the American Memory collection (such as the Life Histories collected from 1936-1940) as starting places for found poems.

With students, I have sometimes added additional levels of complexity - like asking that they find rhymes in the original and use them, or construct a poem in a form (sonnets etc.). You might raise the bar for your own attempt in the same way.For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


don't let those hard little nuts
intimidate you
grasp the soul of the city
the cold greyness of the landscape
absorbed in gloom

the only thing that matters is equality
such a simple tool
the dazzling blue of each bottle beckons
regaling his audience with anecdotes
romantics welcomed - cynics converted

a lot of a good thing is not necessarily
a great thing
this is where simplicity reigns
a saffron colored stroll
celebrating the olive harvest

This poem was found in the April of 1997 La Cocina Italiana Magazine
Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


I think and pray
and do a little reshelving
I consider myself for counsel
I discover considerations
I think more rigorously:
not deciding would be identical
with deciding not…
I put emphasis on the possibility
dread doing, telling, ought to
fear leaving

The truth is, old covetise
came over me
I felt the way I used to feel
as if I were looking back
Maybe I don’t understand
Maybe I don’t make sense
I don’t want to be tremulous
I could trust my heart
could fault myself for feeling this way
I dread sorrow

(Found in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – pages 140-141)
Violet Nesdoly


When most people enter a dark
room, they reach for the
light switch
automatically. It's second nature.
A 1-year-old can figure out
(and totally enjoy)
how to switch lights on and
off. But in this age
of going green and preserving
our natural
resources, anyone can
learn to live without
electricity. It takes some
getting used to, but you might
find that, after awhile,
you don’t even
reach for the
light switch any longer.

(from "How to Live Without Electricity" by Juliet Johnson, eHow)
Taylor Graham

Found Poem: Gardener’s Supply Catalog

create a neat
well defined edge

a classic look

sizes to fit
hold their shape

a smart alternative
eyesores disappear
mock the real thing

Darlene Moore Berg


Black rocks
brown pebble


organic white
pure white

free spirit

Ann Nadge


Carry the day
Rate a mention
Prefer this attribute
Increased visibility

Quite clear

Diverse departments
Be taught
Also be able.

It is likely
Have evolved
Or so one might think.

(Found poetry from The Weekend Australian – “People skills carry the day” Feb 13,14 2010)
Iris Lavell

Found in the Girl Scout Handbook, 1920

If you should miss your way,
the first thing to remember is like the Indian,
“You are not lost; it is the teepee that is lost.”

It isn’t serious.
It cannot be so,
unless you do something foolish.

You may be sure:
You are not nearly as far
from camp as you think you are.

The worst thing you can do
is to get frightened.
It is fear that robs the wanderer
of judgement and of limb power;
it is fear that turns
the passing experience
into final tragedy.

If there is snow on the ground,
you can follow your back track.

If you see no landmark,
look for the smoke of the fire.
Shout from time to time, and wait;
for though you have been away for hours
it is quite possible you are
within the earshot of your friends.

Keep cool, make yourself comfortable,
leave a record of your travels
and help your friends to find you.

Mary F. C. Pratt

But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot,
and she returned unto him into the ark - Genesis 8:9

Doves come and go
through holes in the panes
of the top floor flat
on Seven Sisters road.

Alone, a mother crouches
in the back kitchen,
a child does not move
in his cot. The kettle

has forgotten how to whistle
since the clock ticks
at the pawn shop. Thankfully,
heavy traffic thundering

past the front room
shakes the windows
animates the floors
disturbs the doves.

‘Found’ and inspired by ‘gradual and growing neglect at the hands of his mother’

Stella Pierides

(instructions from a Thanksgiving article in The Star Ledger)

The biggest challenge-
but you can do it right
by following instructions.
With a little thought
it doesn't have to be
like scaling Everest.
It's only a bird, after all.
You can do it at the table
if you love cheap theatrics.
Think tools.
Make believe it's a TV sitcom.
Bring the bird close to you.
Closer. Run the risk.
Position the bird breast side up
staring you in the face.
Plunge in and begin gently.
This should not be tough going.
Find the thigh.
It should offer just a slight
bit of resistance. Then breathe.
Grasp it with your fingers
and pull toward you.
The last bit of amusement:

Susan Rothbard

advice to English boys about English girls - from instructions in a Thanksgiving article in The Star Ledger

Do it at the table
with cheap theatrics.
Think tools.
Make believe.
The breast-
Bring it close
Staring you in the face.
Position the bird and
begin gently.
Find the thigh.
Slight resistance.
Breathe, then with your fingers
Plunge in and grasp
the last bit of amusement.

Kenneth Ronkowitz

from an email

student papers,
emails from demanding parents.
busy week.
book group
discussing a book I barely read.
(Tuesday tango, Wednesday rumba)
twisted into unusual positions.
The music is beautiful.
The choices somewhat surprising.

How many lifetimes does it take
to accept our own imperfections
and our imperfect lives?
Yes, acceptance of that would be contentment.

Patricia Thomas