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 an “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, https://www.foundpoetryreview.com/about-found-poetry/.

9 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

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