There’s a misconception about found poetry that often gets reinforced when we read through submissions – that found poetry is easy and that anyone can do it.
In the ongoing struggle to make people feel like poetry is applicable and accessible to them, found poetry is often offered as a palatable alternative to writing a regular poem. Look! the teachers and bloggers say, You no longer have to write something from scratch – just stack up some book spines or mash together some lines from that newspaper on your desk and, voila: a poem!
This empowerment is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, found poetry is a great inroad into poetry, and we certainly want to see more widespread adoption of it. On the other hand, when people are told “anyone can write a found poem,” they do – often without a fundamental understanding of the elements that make any poem effective.
There are scores of frameworks or rubrics for evaluating poetry – here’s a simple one designed for students we can use for our discussion:
It’s basic, but see all those criteria in the “Wow!” column? We look for those when we read found poetry.
We want to have an emotional response to what you’ve written – be surprised, be happy, be sad. Your language choices are also really important, particularly when compiling poems from different sources. Have you weaved those lines together so that you have a consistent voice, or does it still feel disjointed? And it’s not enough just to thieve someone’s existing metaphors or images; in your reworking of a text, how can you create your own – ones that weren’t there before?
There are journals publishing language poems and journals publishing extremely experimental works that may disagree, but over here at The Found Poetry Review, we believe that found poetry’s classification as “experimental writing” doesn’t exempt it entirely from elements considered essential in traditional poetry.