“Found Poetry” is an activity a lot of artists (and maybe writers too) engage in. For this sample (the left-hand side of the photo at right) the found poem consists of words and phrases cut from a magazine and assembled into a poem.
With no subject in mind, I flipped through a Yoga Journal magazine and started cutting out phrases I’d like to use in a poem. I arranged and rearranged the fragments, hunted for punctuation and additional words (like “and”), then glued the whole thing together and added the date at the bottom.
There are other ways of constructing found poems and I’ve used a few of them. It’s one of my favorite writing/art activities. I spend A LOT of time creating the poem, sometimes a lot more time than I spend on the art.
In the case of this two-page art journal spread I set up certain parameters, or limitations. Everything on these pages (except the painted background and the pink flowers) was cut from the same issue of Yoga Journal. I didn’t alter any words–like adding “-ing” to the end of a word–however, I cut the word “it” from a longer word and the two periods are actually the dots of lower case I-s.
Something I’ve learned from this activity is that I expand my horizons as a writer by limiting them. This is an important lesson and one I forget every morning. How do I set up my day when I have the world to consider?
In the Church we often talk about how God’s laws are a blessing–they give us freedom and aren’t restrictions. When I see the same thing taught on a less esoteric level it catches my attention. The principle is the same: rules give freedom. (Funny–no, sad–how the “uninitiated” are quick to embrace the temporal lesson and reject the spiritual one.)
I’m including the cover of a book that teaches this lesson so well. In Drawing Lab (not “Drawing Labs” which is what I can’t do very well, but it still applies to me) author Carla Sonheim says,
“One way I’ve found to get over this block [the blank page] is to have an arsenal of starter exercises (or ‘assignments’) on hand to help me get going [see, we kick against rules and being told what to do, but we crave it all the same]: Rules, restrictions, or challenges to work within. And react against [yes, we like that option too]. And create in spite of. Limitations keep me from taking me or my art too seriously. They also relieve the pressure of what to draw and just get me moving.
“Consider these words by creative people through our history:
“‘The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.’ –Igor Stravinsky [That’s practically scripture.]
“‘Limit gives form to the limitless.’ –Pythagoras
“‘The fewer limitations the artist imposes on his work, the less chance he has for artistic success.’ –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“‘The problem about art is not finding more freedom, it’s about finding obstacles.’ –Richard Rogers
“‘Without firm limits there is no play.’ –Rem Koolhaas
“It’s a paradox: when you have complete freedom, you often ‘freeze up’ and do nothing.” (Drawing Lab, Carla Sonheim, p 10-11).
Like Carla, I’ve found that if I give myself rules to create by I can get something done.
A variation of the found poem activity (and my usual method) is to tear one page from a book (hopefully one that’s full front and back, not a chapter opening or close) (also, it’s permissible to make a copy if, like me, you sometimes shudder at the thought of disemboweling a book) and construct your poem using only that page. It’s tough because you have to plan carefully so you don’t cut something from one side and ruin some words from the other side you had also hoped to use.
What I learn from this activity is that I can change my voice and ideas by using someone else’s. This is hard to explain. Sometimes, when I re-read one of these found poems I wonder if I’m the one who wrote it. It doesn’t sound like me. Also, in the process of construction I struggle with the words I have available for use. How can I say what I’m thinking if the word “icy” isn’t there? So I look for synonyms, but if I can’t find one, then a synonymous expression. Often I’ll find myself coming up with a whole new thought. From that new line the poem usually takes a different direction.
I enjoy the challenge of creating a poem that has a different feel from the original page. I made a romantic poem from a math book (story problems) page. I made a fairy tale-like poem from a religious book page. Ah, the possibilities!
A person like me requires limits. Even within boundaries, I explore. I create outside the box I’m in.