found poetry–the statue in the stone

I am not a poet.

I tell my students this as we work on poetry for half of the semester in creative writing. I am a fiction writer, but I became a better fiction writer through studying and writing poetry.

In both poetry and fiction, word choice–diction–matters. But in poetry, the challenge to say more with fewer words causes us to be more frugal.

So today, we channeled our inner Michelangelo and discovered the statue in the block of stone.

I refer to this activity as found poetry, though I’m sure there’s several names for it. Pinterest also has some amazing examples of it.

I have a book, published in 1949 with yellowed pages with that wonderful old book smell, The Heavyweight Championship, that I use for this first assignment.

foundStep 1: Select a page from a book or other (prose) publication.

I think half the class gasped as I gave the instructions, then demonstrated. “Rip a page out of the book.” Rip.

I allowed them to select any page, for that page held the poem meant for them. I think part of the success concerns what book you allow your students (or yourself) to use. The point is to make the final poem sound nothing like its source material.

Step 2:
Circle words (top to bottom, left to right) to create a new poem.

Step 3: Adorn accordingly.

(Optional) Step 4: Use this opportunity to teach line breaks and punctuation.

My original chosen words read like this: thirteen years a fortune of good time never self-confident erratic temperamental Jack lost the time it was thirteen Jack Jack avoided triumph Jack stopped

Decisions: line breaks, capitalization, and punctuation.

During the next class, we’re going to look at all 18 poems and talk about these critical decisions in poetry. Here’s how I rewrote my poem:

Thirteen years–
a fortune
of good time.
Never self-confident, erratic,
Jack lost
the time.
It was
Jack avoided triumph.
Jack stopped.

Digression: Today, I met my new creative writing students–eighteen brilliant minds eager to tell a story. I am blessed to also have five advanced CW loopers–students who excelled in creative writing last year. They will be working on independent projects and pursuing publication while still participating in weekly workshops with my first-year CW students. It’s going to be a great semester. You’ll be hearing a lot about them, I’m sure.



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