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How to Write a "Found Poem"


A "found poem," according to Poets.org, is the “literary equivalent of a collage” often made “from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.” However, 21st century poets have devised many new ways of writing found poetry by modifying popular methods: chance operations, cento, erasure, blackout and Golden Shovel.

Chance Operations: Cut-Ups, Etc.

Try this method of writing found poetry. Use newspapers or magazines to cut out words and images that appeal to you. Put the cutouts into a paper bag. Shake the bag and scatter the pieces onto a table. Arrange the words into sentences until a concept has meaning for you. Write a rough poem from the sentences and then free associate words from the images. Combine into a finished poem.

Cento, Erasure and Blackout

Cento -- a Latin word that means “patchwork -- is a collage poem that uses only lines from other sources, arranges them into a new form or incorporates them into an existing poem. Erasure and blackout methods use an original text, and then erase or black out certain parts with markers to make a new poem. Try this method with one or more poems you like: Write them out in pencil, rearrange the lines, and then either erase or black out words. Use those words to make a new poem. Repeat, but omit different words. Make another poem. Combine both for a final version.

Golden Shovel

Golden Shovel is a method of found poetry attributed to Terrance Hayes. Here are the rules provided by Robert Lee Brewer of "Poetic Asides":

  • Take a line or lines from a poem you admire.

  • Use each word in the line or lines as an end word in your poem.

  • Keep the end words in order.

  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line or lines.

  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the original.

Plagiarism vs. Successful Found Poetry

A found poem is successful only if it becomes something completely different from the texts you use. "If the new piece feels like a repackaged version of the original, then it's probably not working yet," says Brewer. Cento, erasure, blackout and Golden Shovel are potentially problematic because of ethical considerations and copyright laws. To avoid plagiarism, writers who publish found poetry should cite sources and obtain permission from authors or poets.

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About the Author

A native of New Orleans, Amanda Petrona holds a Bachelor of Science in anthropology/social psychology and Master of Arts in English. She taught writing, research and literature at LSU Baton Rouge. Petrona founded Wild Spirit Louisiana, an organic farm, nature conservatory, and education center for sustainable and holistic living.

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