As a practitioner of found poetry, my work celebrates the poetry in the existing and the everyday. Most poets begin with an idea and find the words; I begin with the words and find an idea.
I start with sources as diverse as product packaging, junk mail, newspapers and literary texts, excerpting words and phrases that I then weave into new poems. The resulting pieces are literary versions of collages, where disparate pieces comprise a whole that differs from, responds to or elucidates the source text.
Nothing — not poetry, not fiction, not nonfiction — is ever created ex-nihilo. All writing betrays an influence — elements of story and style gathered from writers who came before.
Through my work, I seek to spark new dialogue about how we define words like creativity and originality, and demonstrate that often the only difference between found poetry and “traditional” writing is that the former’s sources are showing.
“Try writing something original for a change.”
This single sentence — it’s trailing “sweetheart” omitted but implied — arrived in my inbox in early 2011. Its writer, the editor of the literary journal to which I’d submitted two found poems for consideration, was clearly unimpressed with the art form.
Two months later, fueled by his misconceptions and my desire to be an advocate for the art form, I founded The Found Poetry Review (http://www.foundpoetryreview.com), the first literary journal dedicated exclusively to publishing erasure, blackout, cut-up and other forms of found poetry. To date, we have published the work of more than 125 poets, produced six volumes of the journal, sponsored three National Poetry Month projects and issued two special online editions.
Being able to name what works — and what doesn’t — in the hundreds of submissions I read along with the journal’s staff each year brings clarity to what works — and doesn’t — in my own found poetry practice.
What I look for in these poems is what I aim to achieve with my own work: pieces that are more than a poetic distillation of the source subject, that are not so experimental as to be incomprehensible, that make the reader feel something (surprise, sadness, the urge to smile) and that incorporate all those other not insignificant things like form, syntax and structure that make all poems work.