August Challenge #2: Make More from Less with Found Poetry

Welcome to our second August challenge of 2018! Rummage through your bookshelves and ransack the library – this week Foyle Young Poet Bailey Blackburn is challenging writers to make poems out of already-published texts. Find August challenge #1 here.

collage with newspapers painted over with dark pastel coloured paints and white cloud shapes stamped on the top, a few jewels scattered here and there

When I first began writing poetry, I was often terrified by the concept of the blank page. This huge, daunting white space that had to be filled with my own words before it could be called a ‘poem’ intimidated me, and I often found it hard to just get started with writing something. However, it’s from this fear of empty pages and starting poems that my love and admiration for found poetry, specifically black-out poetry, was born. In fact I was commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2017 with my black-out poem ‘Paradise’, a found poem from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I have always been a fan of minimalism in writing – I think so much can be said in so little space or with few words. For me, found poetry is the perfect medium to explore the idea that ‘less is more’.

Found poetry is poetry created out of texts that already exist in the world – texts that you ‘find’. There are two main ways to create a found poem. The first way involves erasing (‘blacking out’) sections of an existing text in order to give the words that remain a new meaning, but keeping their original order intact, like in the examples below. The second way involves lifting words or phrases from an existing text and rearranging them into a poem separately.

Found poem from The Great Gatsby
Found poem from Anna Karenina

The ‘text’ can be anything – an online article, a page from a novel, another poem or even things you overhear. The beauty of this form of poetry, for me, is that it is truly open-ended, and anything can be given a new meaning. Writing a poem like this is, in some ways, like a treasure hunt. It requires you not only to have an idea or theme you want to convey in your writing, but also to search through your chosen media to find interesting scraps of language that convey this effectively. When creating one of these poems, you don’t normally add any words yourself, so it can be a rewarding challenge to find a sequence of words that works grammatically. By the end, you have a ‘collage’ of words and phrases representing a theme or idea that is a poem in its own right, born from pre-existing writing.

Creating a poem out of someone else’s work also means that every word signifies two things, as writer Annie Dillard explains:

By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate increases, the element of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry. It serves up whole texts, or interrupted fragments of texts.

Annie Dillard, Found Poetry Review

This idea of doubling the context of a poem can be seen in the example created from an extract of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby above. This poem explores themes of change and growth, just as the novel does: in The Great Gatsby, the American Dream is unattainable despite characters’ attempts to grow. Less really is more here: without the poet adding a thing, the novel’s context enriches the poem’s meaning.

The Challenge

Your challenge is to create a found poem using any media of your choice, be it something you like already, such as your favourite book or poem; or an article, series of tweets or social media posts you stumble upon online that resonates with you or is particularly topical; or something auditory, like an overheard conversation or song lyrics. You can create your poem by ‘blacking out’ sections of a text, or cutting up and re-arranging parts of it. The form that your poem takes can be up to you, so long as it follows the general idea of found poetry i.e. that it is made up entirely of other media.

collage including stamps, brightly coloured paper and paints, and wires stuck down with green starry tape

Here are some prompts to help you:

  • Try to play with the themes of your chosen published media. For example, if you choose to alter a page of a novel that’s about love, see if you can twist that into precisely the opposite and give your poem a more sombre or sad feel. Found poetry is all about creating something new and different from something else, so having an overall tone or idea you want to pursue when creating yours can help.
  • Don’t feel pressured to make your first choice text work! I’ve found that by far, this type of poetry is subject to a lot of trial and error. Often, a page or article you’ve chosen might simply not work in the way you want it to in portraying your ideas, and this is completely fine. There will definitely be another text that will work far better out there somewhere.
  • Be bold! Found poetry is by far one of the most ‘out-there’ forms of poetry, so don’t feel like you have to follow the regular rules of stanzas and line lengths that you find in other forms. The most important thing with this type of writing is to create something impactful that will resonate with a reader and doing this in a creative way will definitely make your piece stand out. Remember, your poem is entirely unique to you, and can range from deleting and changing entire paragraphs of text to re-ordering a few phrases here and there.
  • Remember to credit the original text – not just because that’s interesting for the reader to know, but also because you should always credit other writers when you make something new from their work.

collage including roses on wallpaper, other brightly coloured paper

Inspiration

In order to help show the breadth of this form of poetry, I’ve included some examples that may help to shape your own writing that cover the different types of found poetry.

‘Let’s Bubble Up to the Surface and Smell the Numbers by Derek Owens

This is a fantastic example of found poetry being created from snippets of audio, rather than text, which you may want to try in your own poem. The poet has taken these snippets and re-formatted them in a traditional structure. Your poem could come from conversations you overhear when you’re outside, for example.

‘Spring is Here by Debby Thompson

This poem is a good example of how you can create found poetry by changing even the most minute details. In this, for instance, the poet isolated certain sections of an e-mail they received and joined them together to create a poem, as well as added line breaks. You could try this with an e-mail or other kind of message you have received.

Untitled’ by ‘Ms. Morris’

This is a more traditional example of ‘black-out’ poetry made using a physical book, erasing large sections to create something new. (Don’t worry about ruining your books! You can achieve the same effect using Microsoft Word and the highlighter tool set to the colour black.)

I’m looking forward to reading all your submissions, happy writing!

Prizes

The winning poems will be published on the Young Poets Network website. Winners will also receive an exclusive Young Poets Network notebook, poetry books and other poetry goodies.

How to enter

This challenge is open to all poets up to the age of 25, based anywhere in the world. You can send a poem written down, or a performance poem as a video or as an audio file. Send as many poems as you like. The deadline for all entries is midnight, Monday 10 September 2018.

If you are sending a written version of your poem, please type it into the body of your email. If you are sending an image, video or audio file, please attach it to the email (making sure it’s no bigger than 4MB or it won’t come through) or send us a link to where we can see/hear it.

Send your poems to educationadmin@poetrysociety.org.uk with your name, date of birth/age, gender, and the county (or, if you’re not from the UK, the country), you live in and the subject line ‘August challenge #2’. Please tell us where your found poem is from, e.g. ‘phrases taken from Chapter 1 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby’ or ‘made up of an overheard conversation in a Tesco’.

If you are aged 12 or younger on Monday 10 September 2018 you will need to ask a parent/guardian to complete this permission form if you haven’t already; otherwise, unfortunately we cannot consider your entry. This is due to new data protection laws. 

If you would like us to confirm that we’ve received your entry, include ‘confirm receipt’ in the subject line of your email. If you would like us to add you to the Young Poets Network mailing list, please include ‘add me to the mailing list’ in the body of the email. You can sign up yourself for free here.

By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network and The Poetry Society to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you, and to hold your data in a secure manner so we can contact you about the results of this challenge. Please do be sure to check through the general Terms and Conditions for YPN challenges as well.

Bailey Blackburn lives in Manchester, England, is 18 and was commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2017. He studied Creative Writing at college and loves to experiment with the forms that poetry can take and how they are presented on the page. He is excited to set this found poetry challenge and can’t wait to read all the entries!

2 thoughts on “August Challenge #2: Make More from Less with Found Poetry

  1. Hello – Is it possible to submit images of black-out poems, or do I need to type them up? I’m looking forward to this challenge!

    1. Hi Ella,

      Yes, you can send an image if that’s easier!

      Best of luck and we can’t wait to read your poem(s),

      Helen at YPN

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