Found Poetry

Back in 2012 I entered the New York Times Found Poetry competition.

This is the idea:

What’s a found poem? A good nutshell description would be “poems that are composed from words and phrases found in another text.” A New York Times found poem, then, uses words and phrases taken from one Times article, past or present, or several — and since the paper has been publishing since 1851, choosing which Times article(s) to use is often the hardest part.

I chose the announcement of Walt Whitman’s death from March 27th 1982.

To start with I read it over a few times. I printed out the article twice, and scribbled all over the first one – highlighting all of the phrases and words that I really liked. I wanted the poem to reflect Whitman’s own ideas about death. He wrote often about dying and the afterlife. He admired people who had a calm readiness for death and often attended vigils for people who were dying or ill. His poem ‘To Think of Time’ was influenced by visits to hospitals and seeing cholera victims. Whitman wrote of death as a divine mystery rather than focusing on the violent death on battlefields. He saw existence as a continuum and I don’t think was afraid of dying or doubted an eternal life of sorts. I read many of his poems and several articles from the Encyclopedia of Walt Whitman before I started forming the poem so I knew what I wanted it to say from the start.

Once I had something that looked pretty much as good as it was going to get I took my clean copy of the article and went through to make certain that I’d not added anything of my own. The competition allows you to use two words of your own but I really didn’t want to do that. I found out a few months later that I had been chosen as one of the winners and this year I was even quoted in the opening announcement of the competition.

I’ve done a few more of these and although newspaper articles are some of my favourite things to use I also love working from letters, journals and textbooks. It’s great fun and makes you think about a different set of criteria in your writing. I’ll post a few up here and do pop a link in the comments if you are another Found Poet, I’d love to read them.


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