#ThePoeming… So It Begins

This October, I’m joining with 50+ poets across the country for THE POEMING–a found poetry event featuring new poems posted each day, based on the novels of Stephen King.


So, what is found poetry, anyway?

In the most basic sense of the words, a found poem involves taking something found in a text that exists in the world and using it for a poem. Obviously, such an endeavor can come about in many different forms. Here are some of the ways a writer might “find” a poem in a text (some of which I’ll be using for #ThePoeming over the next 30 days):

  1. The Frame – Take a bit of text exactly as it appears in a text and break it into lines.This is often a technique I use to create found poems out of text that has no literary intentions to begin with. I might take, for example, a few sentences from the instruction manual for a power drill and break them into lines. By doing this, I am essentially putting a bit of everyday text and putting it in the “frame” of a poem. Sometimes for me, this form is really about heightening different meanings hidden in the text through the use of line breaks. At other times, it’s about creating a new way of hearing our everyday language by framing it as poetry.
  2. Remix – Select words, phrases, or sentences from a text and use them in any order to create a poem. You can physically cut up the page to do a remix (though some people call that sort a “cut up”) or excerpt bits without cutting.By having defined and finite source material (a tiny word bank), I often find myself stretching meaning in ways I find pleasurable and surprising. I enjoy seeing what colors I can come up with when I’m given a limited palette. Also, I can’t just fall back on my old tricks as a writer when I write a remix. I often have to find new structures to incorporate the words I’m given.

    Some poets are very strict in the way they remix poems, using only the exact words found (as would be required in a cut-up poem). Others allow for alterations (shifts in verb tense, making a plural word singular or vice versa, repetitions or words beyond what is found in the original text).

  3. Mash-up – Select words, phrases, or sentences from two or more texts and use them in any order to create a poem. Often this works best if at least one of those texts is presented in something close to its original order.The poem above is a mash-up of Williams’ famous poem and a random line from King’s The Regulators. The humor here is most obvious when you know “This Is Just To Say” is about eating plums. By sneaking in the line from King, I’ve made the poem (at least in my mind) about eating people. The mash-up here functions as something close to parody, but a mash-up can be used to create different effects, depending on the source materials. For example, I could take the statement of the rape victim in the Brock Turner case and mash it with lines from the court proceedings or the judge’s decision to create a political poem.
  4. Erasure – Erase parts of a text to reveal a poem that can generally be read in the same order as it appeared in the original. Erasure can be presented as a black-out poem or re-typed (or both). Sometimes in blackouts, poets will create visual cues (almost like a flowchart) to suggest the flow of the poem, allowing the poet to present the poem in a somewhat different order than the original.You can find some gorgeously presented blackouts on Pinterest. Here are some pretty sloppy blackouts I wrote a while back:

    I could also retype them and present them as an erasure poem. Here’s a sample of what the one on the left might look like retyped:

    Before I Went Away

    She had never known the true name.
    There is no need for thinking, my sister.

    When it was necessary to utter lies,
    the truth allowed her to call herself

    anyone: your sister,
    his voice, his ancestry, eyes,

    a compliment, her teachers,
    their pupils, her friends,

    such words.

  5. CentoFound Poetry Review describes cento as poetry which “unite lines from other authors’ writings into a new poem. The original lines remain intact; the main intervention comes in arrangement and form.”To be honest, I’ve never felt compelled to take lines from a poem or lyric bit of prose and rework them. To me, found poetry is about finding poems in text that’s not already poetic. I enjoy blackout that uses literary texts as source material, and I enjoy poems that quote a line or two of a source poem as either a launching pad or ending point for a poem that is mostly original (see conversation poems, below).

    The idea, though, of reordering a poem to make another poem doesn’t really interest me.

  6. Conversation poems – Mix bits of found text (literary or not) with your own original lines to create a poem that moves between the two. Often poets distinguish found bits from original but putting one or the other in a different font or in italics.Mary Szybist’s “Annunciation in Nabokov and Starr,” for example, mixes lines from Nabokov’s Lolita and Kenneth Starr’s investigation of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, The Starr Report with original lines.
  7. Golden shovels – This form creates a sort of back-loaded acrostic (using words instead of letters). Basically, you select a line from a poem, isolate each word in that found line, and then use each of those words in order as the end words for each line of your poem.Terrance Hayes invented this poem with his poem “The Golden Shovel.”

    You can find more complete instructions for form here.

  8. Isolations – Select a single word or structure to “follow” throughout a body of text, isolate it, and present those isolations.For example, one of the poems I’ll be posting this month selects all the dialog from a single chapter of The Regulators. Another isolates every time a proper name is mentioned in a set of pages and presents each in order, with a few words that follow each presentation. (If the name occurred in the subject of the sentence, I would generally select the words up to the verb. If the name occurred in the predicate, I would generally select words to the period.)

    I’m also considering creating a poem that tracks a single word through the entire novel (though I haven’t done that yet, so who knows?).

    This form creates a sort of “condensed” experience of the text. It also, in some ways, suggests a sort of literary analysis of the text.

  9. Found + form – Use any variety of found poem to create a work in form. For example, a remix sestina or an erasure ghazal.These are hard. The only ones I’ve tried have been remix haiku.

What other forms am I missing? Add your comments below.


Witchy Woman – Jen McConnel Tells Us the Secret of Isobel Key

Jen McConnel - author of The Secret of Isobel Key

Jen McConnel – author of The Secret of Isobel Key

Today I’m celebrating the release of the new adult novel The Secret of Isobel Key with an interview of the book’s author, Jen McConnel. In this contemporary romance, a recent college grad sets off to discover the secrets of a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.

You started out writing poetry. How did you begin to write fiction? What was it like to make that leap?

Jen: When I was young, I wrote everything, but the fiction sort of faded away by the time I got to college. Maybe because I was an English major, analyzing literature on a daily basis, I began to pursue publication with my poetry before I returned to fiction. I still write poetry, but my focus has really shifted, and the shift started when I was teaching middle school. Spending my days trying to get kids excited about reading and writing must have rubbed off, because the summer after my first year of teaching is when I started to seriously write fiction. Continue reading

Where Did the Green Man Come From? / WordSparks

Green girl power!

Green girl power!

Here’s the second in a series of posts about last week’s WordSparks Creative Writing Camp at the Salem Museum. I was genuinely thrilled to see these young people enjoying the fun of live drama as they gathered materials for their Green Man (and Woman) Masks and created an origin story for the mysterious Green Man seen for centuries in art and architecture. The kids came up with fantastic stories about how the green folk turned green! I’ll let the pictures talk for themselves.


Plotting out the play


Good idea!


What a smile!


Ready to go!


The audience awaits…


Wait a minute! We’re still working!


Follow the leader!


The play begins!


The boys plot their play






The afternoon group gathers greens




Collecting from the garden


… and more collecting


So lovely!


Howard and Kaylan




Making the masks…


At work!




Rainbow eyes!


The team

Green Man (and Woman!) Masks

(photo copyright Mary Crockett)

(photo copyright Mary Crockett)

I’m gearing up for leading WordSparks Creative Writing Camp next week, so I’m getting my kids busy trying out a few of the projects I’ve planned. The first one we tried out is the Green Man (or Woman) Mask.

Basically, the Green Man is a leafy-faced dude who has appeared in art and architecture since ancient times. He looks like this:

(Green Man photos courtesy of Wikimedai Commons. First image by Johannes Otto Först, second and third by Simon Garbutt.)

The idea for the craft is to gather natural materials from the gardens and park surrounding the museum to use in a Green Man or Green Woman mask. Then we’ll write a mask poem… or mask story for the prose inclined.

As I got my kids to  make some prototypes, here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. There is no “wrong” way to do this (at least by my standards).

2. Glue-gun glue is HOT!

3. When you go outside with a big basket and start throwing in lots of leaves, flowers, twigs, grass, etc., and them come back in and dump it all on your kitchen table, you can expect to find tiny bugs on and around your kitchen table for quite a while.

3. My baby makes a super cute Green Man.

The bearded lady. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

The bearded lady. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

Diablo. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

Diablo. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

Mr. Chin Music. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

Mr. Chin Music. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

The Green Girl. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

The Green Girl. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

The Stache. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)

The Stache. (photo copyright Mary Crockett)