Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.
A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.
More about the Found Poem
Examples of found poems can be seen in the work of Blaise Cendrars, David Antin, and Charles Reznikoff. In his book Testimony, Reznikoff created poetry from law reports, such as this excerpt:
Amelia was just fourteen and out of the orphan asylum;
at her first job—in the bindery, and yes sir, yes
ma’am, oh, so anxious to please.
She stood at the table, her blond hair hanging about
her shoulders, “knocking up” for Mary and Sadie,
the stitchers (“knocking up” is counting books and
stacking them in piles to be taken away).
Many poets have also chosen to incorporate snippets of found texts into larger poems, most significantly Ezra Pound. His Cantos includes letters written by presidents and popes, as well as an array of official documents from governments and banks. The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, uses many different texts, including Wagnerian opera, Shakespearian theater, and Greek mythology. Other poets who combined found elements with their poetry are William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky.
The found poem achieved prominence in the twentieth century, sharing many traits with Pop Art, such as Andy Warhol’s soup cans or Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheels and urinals. The writer Annie Dillard has said that turning a text into a poem doubles that poem’s context. “The original meaning remains intact,” she writes, “but now it swings between two poles.”