Workshop for Creating A Found Poem

I was lucky today to be part of a great panel on found poetry organized by Carrie Etter at the NAWE Conference this afternoon. I had some technical issues and I couldn’t add the handout with two of my own poems on and a workshop exercise. But here are the exercises:

Found Poetry Exercises

Simone Muench offers some great found poetry writing exercises in a reader’s guide that you can find on her author page at Sarabande Books.

The Angel of the Library Exercise

This is a great exercise that will be useful once libraries are open once more, post-COVID-19. I first had the idea when I heard the writer Peter Blegvad talking about the “angel of the library” which guides your hand to the book that you didn’t know you wanted. That’s the joy of in person libraries.

Writing Preparation

Ask your students to visit your local library and study the books on the shelves. They can explore any section of the library except for literature or poetry. They could investigate sections like travel and geography, history, religion, sociology, self-help, cookery etc. 

During their exploration, they have to let the library angel guide their hand to a book in one of these sections. Then they must take it to one side and do the following.

Ask them to add the three numbers in their birth date i.e. the day, the month and the last two digits in the year, and whatever number it adds up to, turn to that page in the book. They must write out the page in their notebook and take it home. 

Writing Exercise

Once at home, they should circle six interesting words that come up on the page they copied out. These will be the basis of a sestina. The sestina uses a complex pattern of word repetition at the end of lines. This pattern employs six-line stanzas with six repeated end words and a tercet for the envoi. The title should derive from the found text, and they should try to work as much of the found text into the poem as possible. 

Sestet 1. ABCDEF

Sestet 2. FAEBDC

Sestet 3. CFDABE

Sestet 4. ECBFAD

Sestet 5. DEACFB

Sestet 6. BDFECA

Sestet 7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

The subject matter of the poem will be defined by the words that they have chosen, but the trick is to make those words work for them and what they want to say, For further inspiration, see W.H. Auden’s ‘Paysage Moralisé’: