How to Write Found Poetry

What's a found poem?
Found poem examples
Writing ideas

Found poetry is made by taking language from a non-poetic sources and turning it into poems.

For example, found poems have been made using phrases from textbooks, street signs, news reports, and comic books.  

Think of found poetry as a collage made out of words.  A visual artist might make a collage from scraps of cloth and paper, postage stamps, buttons, and feathers, putting these elements together in a way that creates something new.  You can do the same thing with language. 

Writing found poetry is a kind of treasure hunt.  Keep an eye out for interesting scraps of language that you might be able to use in a poem.  Try putting them together in different ways.  Combining seemingly unrelated elements can create a kind of chemical spark, leading to surprising results.

You might end up rewriting the poem and taking out most of the found language, or you might keep the found language almost in its original form.  See what effects you can create by breaking the lines in different ways to focus the reader's eye on certain words.

As long as you respect copyright, there are no rules that you have to follow, so experiment and have fun.

seashells in plate, illustrating page on found poetry

Found poetry examples

Below are two poems by Al Fogel, which use texts from the Veteran's Benefits Administration almost verbatim. Mr. Fogel has told us that "Headstone Service" and "VA Automobile" are "about 99% pure." In "pure" found poetry, the poet may add line breaks but does not change or omit the actual words.

Headstone Service

by Al Fogel

(from Directory Of VA Benefits)

Headstone or 
grave marker
upon request
to any member
of the
Armed Forces 
whose last 
tour of service 
was terminated honorably 

by death 

Headstone provided without


VA Automobile

by Al Fogel

(from Directory Of VA Benefits)

A veteran who suffered a service-connected loss

    of one hand or one foot

    or one knee or one hip

    or permanent loss of use of

    one hand or one foot

    or permanent impairment of vision

    of both eyes

is entitled to an Automobile 

Payment up to $9,000 provided

    —excluding adaptive equipment

Write a found poem!

Ready to go on a treasure hunt and write some found poetry of your own?

Here are some ideas for places to look for "treasure:"

- newspaper headlines

- horoscopes, fortune cookies

- graffiti

- advertisements, junk mail, brochures

- instruction manuals

- product packaging (e.g., cereal boxes, shampoo bottles)

- Wikipedia articles

- letters, postcards, notes you've left for yourself, phone messages, shopping lists, to-do lists

- school textbooks

- business presentations and reports

- political speeches

- dictionaries

- recipes

- social media posts

Here are some ideas you can use to write found poems:

1) Take parts of instructions for some appliance such as a microwave. Replace some of the words that refer to the appliance, using 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 online dating profiles. 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.

Join our 8-week course Essentials of Poetry Writing,

seashells, illustrating page on found poetry

Found Poetry - Next Steps

Learn about how to write other types of poems

Read more found poetry examples

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