Monday, April 16, 2012

Finding the found (poem, that is)

      I am not a poet.  At least not yet. I am trying. Thanks to a series of elementary school teachers who insisted that all poetry was written in iambic pentameter and rhymed, I knew I was a poetic dunce. Not until high school did I discover that there were other kinds of poetry, but it was too late for me. I could not get those darned rhyme schemes (that never behaved the way I wanted.)

    Oh yeah. I also stink at haiku. I suppose what I really stink at is writing with too many rules.

    But I have been found by the found poem.  I had read about them in various writing books, but none of the books really went into a lot of detail as to what made them "found poetry." I was left with the impression that all these writers had just gotten lucky and found a bunch of words that made poetic sense with addition or subtraction of a little punctuation.

    At last, I have found a book that explains what makes a found poem, The Arrow Finds Its Mark, a short anthology of found poems, edited by Georgia Heard. Disclaimer: I do not know Georgia Heard, nor do I have any sort of relationship with the publisher, Roaring Brook Press.  The contributors are a Who's Who of Children's Literature--Jane Yolen, George Ella Lyon, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lee Bennett Hopkins,
Kristine O'Connell George to name but a few. What the poems (and the wonderful introduction by the editor) showed me was how a poem becomes found.

    Heard likens the process of writing the found poem to a sculptor, chipping away at a block of stone, until the artist's vision appears.  Found poems are fashioned from all kinds of text--picture captions, notes, graffiti, road signs, Twitter messages, recipes, and anything else you can think of. Found poems, contrary to my previous notion, were not serendipitous little messages left for you by the Poetry Fairy.  You, the writer, have to chisel away until the words say what you want, whether or not they have anything to do with the original intent of the writing.  Poems in The Arrow Finds Its Mark come from the Oxford Dictionary, a note left in a laundry room, road signs, a teacher's memo to parents, an airline magazine, various lists (my favorite is a list of nicknames used by players in the National Football League). The possibilities are endless. In just the week of so since I read this book, I my writer's mind, which is quite aware of the visual and auditory world, has now included the possibility of what can be found in words that have already been written.

     Since "writing rules" is a phrase that makes me want to spend the day watching re-runs of Law & Order (my not-so-secret addiction), instead of writing, I was thrilled to discover that the "rules" of found poetry are minimal, according to Heard.  Here they are:

    1.  You can subtract, but not add words. You cannot rearrange word order.

    2.  You can change tenses, plurals, punctuation and capitalization.

    That's it!  The biggest challenge is in training your mind to see the "bones" of a poem within another form of text.

    Over the years, I feel as if you guys have become friends...and friends are patient and encouraging, right?  So, I am trusting you with my very first found poem. I have no idea if this poem works or not, but it feels pretty good to me...and it doesn't rhyme!

    This was "found" in a letter written by a young lady to her serviceman fiancee on VJ Day.

World History (VJ Day)

I guess the war is over.
Wish you could've been with me downtown.
doing the conga in the middle of the street.
Sailors standing on a taxicab,
waving flags 
singing "Anchors Away."
Perfect strangers 
smooching and necking
Autos honking
A trumpet playing
"God Bless America"
A blizzard of ticker tape.
I went home and washed my hair.

      OK, since I hope you are still reading, here is one that I "found" on a Facebook page: (To protect the name of the actual school, I changed it...even though you aren't supposed to.)

Faculty vs Reality

You know you go to Central High when
the Announcement Lady says
"Remember kids, Central High is a
safe and drug-free zone"
and everyone starts laughing
after the word "safe."

    You know, I'm beginning to feel that old metrophobia (fear of poetry) starting to fade a bit.

    Let us know what you find.  The possibilities are endless...dictionary definitions, lists from the thesaurus, phone books, well, you know what endless means!

     Don't forget our latest book giveaway, three autographed books by Janet Wong. Click on over to April's interview with Janet Wong.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Carmela Martino said...

You've really inspired me, MA. Now I want to try writing some "found poems" myself. I love these two that you share--they both pack such emotional punch! The last line of the VJ Day poem is not what I expected, and very powerful as a result.

Irene Latham said...

Mary Ann - you ARE a poet! Love the VJ Day poem... great unexpected, young and very human turn at the end. WRITE MORE POEMS!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Mary Ann,

I love both your poems!

As Georgia Heard's book has inspired you, so you have inspired me. Today on the radio they were talking about moving the space shuttle Discovery to the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

One sentence that keeps rattling around in my head sounds as much like political commentary as simple description:

is on the ground
in Washington."

Sad where my brain goes, isn't it?

Anyway, thanks for making me perk up to sounds around me!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Mary Ann - terrific poems! I shared this book with fourth graders last week, and I couldn't believe how enthusiastically they responded. One of my poems in the book came from a workbook in THAT very classroom - I had the students begin to look for their own found poems in the same workbook, and they went to town. The teacher said several wrote poems "for fun" at home! :0)