How to Write Found Poetry

This page explains found poetry and how to write a poem using this exciting technique. At the bottom of the page, you'll find links to more creative writing lessons and tips.

How to write a found poem

A found poem uses language from non-poetic contexts and turns it into poetry. Think of a collage -- visual artists take scraps of newspaper, cloth, feathers, bottle caps, and create magic. You can do the same with language and poems.

Writing this type of poetry is a kind of treasure hunt. Search for interesting scraps of language, then put them together in different ways and see what comes out. Putting seemingly unrelated things together can create a kind of chemical spark, leading to surprising results.

You might end up rewriting the poem in the end and taking all the found language out, or you might keep the found scraps of language almost in their original form. Either way, found language is a great way to jolt your imagination.

There are no rules for found poetry, as long as you are careful to respect copyright.

Here are some potential sources of "treasure":

  • instruction books, recipes

  • horoscopes, fortune cookies

  • bulletin boards

  • science, math, or social science textbooks

  • dictionaries

  • graffiti

  • pieces of letters, post cards, phone messages, notes you've written for yourself

  • grocery lists, lists of all kinds

  • spam e-mails (Well, they've got to be good for something. But be careful not to click on any suspicious links!)

Click here for found poem examples by the poet Al Fogel.

Try it! Found poem ideas

Here are some ideas you can use to write your own found poetry:

1) Take parts of instructions for some appliance such as a microwave. Replace some of the words that refer to the appliance, using that words that talk about something else. For example: "Lift the memory carefully. Caution: edges may be sharp..."

Suggested poem topics:

  • parenthood

  • falling in love

  • trying to forget something painful

2) Try writing a love poem that quotes various graffiti from a public restroom. Or one that quotes personal ads in a newspaper. This could be very sad love poem, or a funny one, depending on how you decide to write it.

3) Write a poem called "Possible Side Effects." Use phrases from the instructions for some medication in your house, and combine these with language from another source, such as newspaper headlines, advertisements, a TV guide, or a mail-order catalogue. Put these two very different elements together and see what happens.


Next steps

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