Finding Found Poetry

Photo by Alyssa Boobyer on Unsplash.

I have never been a fan of found poetry. Despite Annie Dillard’s characterization of it as anย “urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry,”1 I have tended to view it as a scavenging type of affair involving perfectly good written communication cut-up, erased, and otherwise twisted about by people not clever enough to create something original.

Found poetry pretty much reminded me of an art installation in Portsmouth, Virginia years ago that consisted of bales of hay. Despite the museum’s explanation of the insight into the human condition which the artfully arranged hay bales would bestow upon the populace, the fire marshal failed to be convinced that flammable material in an enclosed space couldn’t catch on fire–and he closed the exhibit before it opened. (It’s a fire hazard. No, it’s art. It’s a fire hazard. No, it’s art. And so on.)

Then recently I was reading an 1851 journal entry on a family history blog, and the last paragraph cried out to me, I am a poem shackled in fetters of prose–you must set me free! Well, okay, I thought, if prose is causing you that much distress, I’ll see what I can do. The end result isn’t urban, youthful, or cruising, but I gave it a title personal to me, so now it qualifies as ironic.

Tannic Waters of the Hillsborough River, Alligators Lurking Unseen
Portentous Vulture Sighting at Little Manatee River

The Inspiration & Source

The original journal entry was written by John Jackson Lewis in 1851 on an ocean voyage from New York to California to visit his brother William. The journal entry is from an ongoing series titled, “Voyage to California,” on Judy Guion’s family history blog, Greatest Generation: Life Lessons. Click here for the entry that prompted my first, and probably only, foray into found poetry.

1“About Found Poetry,” The Found Poetry Review, last modified 2016, accessed November 11, 2018,

28 thoughts on “Finding Found Poetry

  1. The Victorians knew how to write a letter, didn’t they, and this makes a lovely found poem! Imagine someone today writing a letter like the one that inspired you (nope). Also I too am disillusioned by the banality or most art installations.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s very well done, Liz! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m also not usually a great fan of found poetry but then I remember that if it weren’t for the genre, David Bowie (amongst others) would have been without most of his lyrics.

    Many years ago I had a different blog in which, amongst other things, I created found poetry from spam comments. Some of it ended up being rather beautiful!

    Ihope you are having a good Christmas and will have a good and happy new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so funny. He says it may be better to read than to see, yet the second stanza could only be written by someone who has both seen and read. Wonderful poem. The ocean voyage from New York to Cali in 1851? Sign me up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Namaste Liz ๐Ÿ™‚

    Found Poetry is something quite new to me: quite possibly I’ve been oblivious to its form or unaware that it exists! I like this poem you’ve ‘collaged’ – it dares to dream, is ripe with imagery, and places me the reader on-board that sparking ship.

    I would be hesitant to appropriated this ‘form’ for fear of misappropriating another’s work, but yet, it has mileage. The phrase included in your text above the poem ,’ I am a poem shackled in fetters of proseโ€“you must set me free!’ speaks to me of that state of mind one sometimes enters when almost hypnotised reading and more prone to dream.

    Most enjoyed, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

    Blessings to you and yours. Namaste ๐Ÿ™‚


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my brief foray into found poetry. There are times when language used in one form appears to have a different form inherent within it. In addition to prose that really should be poetry, there are lines of conversation that really should be stories. For example, a colleague once asked me what I was doing for the weekend, and I said, “We’re taking Mother to pick peaches.” She told me that sounded like the first line of a story. I told her she could have it, but she insisted I should write it–so I did!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Namaste Liz ๐Ÿ™‚

        Yes, very much so…it has appeal and I can quite understand why you were inspired to have a go. Your reply extends my initial thinking to embrace several different sources of ‘prima materia’ to choose from. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

        Curiosity got the better of me and whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, I applied the idea to a set of fridge magnets – snippets of short phrases, also individual words and letters gifted one Christmas, which when placed in order completed a carol. The result, whilst rough and ready (and needing more work) generated an interesting, and surprisingly satisfactory result.

        โ€œWeโ€™re taking Mother to pick peaches.โ€ makes for a great opening line for either prose or poem. Is it published here on your blog? If so is there a link to it? ๐Ÿ™‚

        The photograph titled, ‘Tannic Waters of the Hillsborough River, Alligators Lurking Unseen’ – has a certain colouring about it – a quality of light, a diffused lustre. When considering tannin as an imagined colour, I wondered if that deliberate?

        3 days into the New Year, I hope it’s welcomed you thus far.

        Namaste ๐Ÿ™‚


        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s so nice to hear that you were inspired to try a new poetic form! Will you be posting it on your blog?

          “Picking Peaches” appears in Volume 2 of Adelaide Voices 2018, just in hard copy, I’m afraid.

          Funny that you mention the light in the “Tannic Waters” photo. I don’t remember it looking like that originally. I’m thinking the photo might have faded, although it could be my memory that’s faded. In any event, at the time, I found the Hillsborough River disturbing because the water was black. Upon investigation, my husband and I learned that it was tannin that colored the water black.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Namaste Liz ๐Ÿ™‚

            I do play about with form sometimes, mainly in response to poetry challenges where set variables determine my approach. I don’t think I’ll blog it, but will return to the idea every now and again now that it stares at me from the fridge door.

            What a shame your verse, ‘Picking Peaches’ won’t be aired here as well. Is that a decision set in stone or perhaps subject to review at some future time?

            Whilst I am not able to see the photographs original state I can’t make a ready comparison, however, I do like it as is shown here. Returning to it again whilst replying to your comment, I’d add the term ‘ethereal’ to my initial observation. It exudes a mystical quality, which I enjoy. Thank you for explanation on the colouring of the water. It inspired a little research into ‘tannin’ – what is was, where it came from, its use, and colour – and came away pleased indeed that I enjoy drinking copious amounts of tea, which I might add is always made strong and sweet – what us Brits may call ‘builder’s tea’ in reference to way most builders appear to enjoy it most. I like it very strong and very sweet almost to the point where it dissolves the tea-spoon! Heaven only knows what it’s doing inside of me as a result ๐Ÿ™‚

            Good to chat as always. Have a wonderful weekend.

            Namaste ๐Ÿ™‚


            Liked by 1 person

            1. Given your comments about how you drink your tea, you would be right at home in the Deep South, where they serve a vile concoction called “sweet tea”! The first time I had it, in a dive bar in Florida called Ralph’s, it felt like it was eating the inside of my brain. (I take my tea black, very strong, and unsweetened.) The rights to “Picking Peaches” will revert back to me at some point; I haven’t checked yet.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Namaste Liz ๐Ÿ™‚

                I find tea very bitter without milk and sugar and not at all to my liking. unless whitened and sweet. I know several who take their brew as you do. Curiously I can drink coffee black without milk or sugar or white and very sweet. Perhaps one day if ever travelling the Deep South i’ll get to try that vile concoction, until then builders-tea will suffice.

                Ah I see the publisher’s retain the rights for your work. I guess we’ll have to wait until they relinquish to read it.

                Hoping all is well and the New Year progressing on all fronts. Take care.

                Namaste ๐Ÿ™‚


                Liked by 1 person

  5. I laughed when you described sweet tea as a vile concoction. There IS enough sugar in it, if memory from my childhood serves, to rot your teeth in a week, if not your brain in a day. I don’t touch any tea now, but I can still remember that stuff. Many who come here from northern or western cities know to order their tea half-and-half, but it’s fun to watch the ones who don’t.

    I enjoyed your poem, and then went to read the journal. He does have a way with words, but perhaps he should have been a poet instead. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my found poem. I also thought that John Jackson Lewis had the soul of a poet.

      What part of the south are you from? I’ve never heard of half-and-half tea. What is it?


  6. East Tennessee. I’m actually from California, via Texas, but my mother was born in Louisiana, and so there was a lot of southern in my upbringing. If you order half-and-half, you get tea that is half sweet tea and half unsweet tea.

    Here, if you are in some kind of restaurant where you can get your own drinks, which might be Subway or might be McAllister’s (a cross between a diner and a sandwich shop) or might be the Chinese restaurant, there will be large containers labelled sweet and unsweet – and if one is empty, it will be the sweet, every time. LOL I’ve observed this over the 8 years I’ve lived here near the area where my grandparents and great grandparents were born. Tennessee is south light, and barely has an accent. What there is seems a mix of mountain speech, NC southern, and midwest.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I found the same thing in Alabama while working a project in Mobile a few years ago. From very “twangy” to almost no accent to my California ear. (He was a local Mobile guy who had been in the USAF so I assume a sort of General American accent wore off on him. ๐Ÿ˜‰ In a college Modern English Grammar course we learned that in the 1800s there was a “Mid-Atlantic” accent spoken by sailors, since there was so much movement of crews back and forth between US and Brattish commercial shipping. Here’s a little piece I wrote about the urban legend that the Ocracoke Brogue is really Elizabethan English:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for you comments and the link. I read the article with a great deal of interest. I find regional dialects fascinating. The native dialect of my home state of Vermont appears to be rapidly disappearing.


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