Dean Buckley is a writer of fiction and poetry, originally from Cahir, Ireland, and currently studying creative writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he lives with his girlfriend, Faith, and their two cats, Mini and Mack.
When he’s not writing, Dean is probably debating competitively or analyzing pop music unnecessarily. His previous publications include Verse Kraken, A Hundred Gourds, Revival and Literary Orphans.
Dean’s poem “Indian Moose Songs” appears in Volume 7 of The Found Poetry Review.
How would you define or describe found poetry in your own words?
I mean, I have this journal that I carry with me everywhere, and any time I come across something interesting, an idea, a bit of trivia, an image, a turn of phrase I like, it goes in that journal.
And then I come back to the journal a while later and I find these bits of text, in the academic sense, things rich in symbolic meaning. Probably the best one I ever found was on some free newspaper on a bus, just a little phrase – “shed your loneliness.”
So I don’t think anyone is surprised by that revelation, that I find inspiration in everyday text, and that I go on to build works around those snippets, as with the ensuing poem, “Shed Your Loneliness.”
Really, found poetry is just the logical extension of that idea. Sometimes I find a segment of text that I think can inspire a poem, so, of course, now and then I also find a whole text or a very large segment of text that can make a whole poem of its own, or a piece of text run through with the pieces of a poem, like flecks of gold in stone.
That’s probably the best explanation I can give of found poetry. Discovering the raw elements buried in something else, digging them out and designing something new from the pieces.
How did you first get introduced to found poetry?
I wish I had a super great story, full of eyes widening in wonder as I stumbled onto a work of magnificent beauty, but I don’t.
I was just starting off as a poet, I mean, in the sense that I was figuring out some of that crap in my school copybook was worth something to me.
I’ve always written, but I never really felt being a writer was something achievable until I was around sixteen. Before then, it was like, “oh man, I’d love to be an astronaut,” like, not happening, in this or any universe.
I realised I didn’t actually know much about poetry. I knew what a sonnet was, and haiku, and I’d just come into contact with my first villanelle (by way of Derek Mahon) and my first sestina (by way of Auden). So I decided I wanted to find out more, especially about non-formal verse.
So that’s when I bombed through just about every Wikipedia article ever written on the subject of poetry, and that’s where I learned about found poetry, and the idea just seemed awesome to me. That’s always kind of been my way with writing, I just find something I think is cool and I try it out.
So, in that sense, I guess the first found poem I read was “The Unknown” by Hart Seely, from his book based on the writings and speeches of Donald Rumsfeld, on that article.
But that’s jokey stuff, really, if you want the first time I came across a work of found poetry that just punched me under my lungs, it was actually just a shopping list shared on a friend’s tumblr, a bucket of ice cream, cable ties, a knife and a pregnancy test or something like that. That was poetry.
Do you consider found poetry more of a process or a product?
I mean, it’s all in how you slice the semantics, isn’t it? I’d actually say it’s process, product and practice.
You need the right tools going in, the practice, to find anything in a text in the first place, as well as principles to apply, or to not apply, during the process, before you can get a product.
I guess that’s why we call it a work of found poetry, because it’s the product of that process, based on the principles of the practice. God, this is a lot of words beginning with ‘p’.
I guess what I’m trying to say, albeit not very well, is that found poetry requires an attitude to texts before it can exist. You need a certain mindset to find anything in the first place, but then even in the writing, the approach to the poetics is markedly different from general poetics.
Absent the creation, you need a stronger element of invention, but you also need an element of preservation, part of the impact of found poetry lies in the source. If it didn’t matter that we found it, we wouldn’t call it found poetry.
In what ways do consider found poetry similar to what others might call “traditional” poetry? In what ways is it notably different?
An obvious way that they’re similar is that old proverb, “nihil sub sole novum.” There is nothing new under the sun, in “traditional” or found poetry.
Anyone who writes a poem draws from symbolic associations they’ve built up in their own brain from reading what came before them. Even someone who’s never read a lick of poetry, then tries to write some, will write it based on an impression of poetry they have, and their word choices and such will be based on the non-poetic writing they read.
In some sense, this is also what sets found poetry apart, in so far as we’re very conscious of our source material, whereas “traditional” relies on a sort of false consciousness thing, where we’re usually not cognisant of the influence of the before.
Not that I think found poetry is superior in some way, because I write mostly “traditional” poetry, so it would be pretty weird of me to think that. They’re just different beasts, and you need different tools to tame them.
Critics often accuse found poetry of being “unoriginal.” How do you define originality? What importance do you place on originality in your own work and in other art you consume?
Well, again, nihil sub sole novum. Originality is a big fat stinking lie, and it has been throughout recorded history, so people who bash found poetry for being derivative are idiots.
Even the supposedly new and groundbreaking consists in disrupting the old and foundational. The avant-garde defines itself against the established, the indie defines itself against the mainstream. Dadaism only matters because there is a sensical order that it intentionally refuses to obey.
I mean, what new stories are there to tell? Absolutely none, and there are few new images to discover, and most of them are just new combinations of what’s already been done.
That’s what originality has always meant to me. Like decks of cards, so many possible arrangements of cards that each time you shuffle, you’re almost certainly producing an arrangement that has never existed before. You can’t find new elements, but you can find new treatments of those elements, and that’s the only originality there can be.
As for what it means for me and for my work and my reading, honestly, I think a lot about these things in the political part of my brain, the academic part, but when I write and read, I always write and read what I write and read because it seems cool to me. I don’t worry much about originality, I just go for it.
I write and read about things that make me angry, things that make me sad and things that I find funny, even though they’re probably not. That’s always been my approach, and it always will be.
What are you working on right now, poetry or otherwise?
My degree program cordons off this year of college for writing projects of my choosing, so I’ve actually been working on a novel, which is kind of bizarre, because before this year, it had taken me a year to write a 2,500-word short story, but now I’ve written almost 25,000 words in two months.
I’ve facetiously referred to it as a post-apocalyptic dystopian cowboy magic realist crime procedural coming-of-age war abortion drama, but it’s mostly about the reach and grasp of individuals, a kind of archetypal story of two friends turned enemies but placed within an evolving political context, and I think a lot of it is a question of how much they chose their roles in those conflicts and how much was chosen for them.
But, I mean, that’s so pretentious that I ended up doing a load of things just to amuse myself, like naming all the major characters after friends of mine and important literary and pop culture figures, because sometimes a childish snicker is all I need to get me through a slump day when I’m writing.
Beyond that, I’m writing a serial story for my college newspaper’s website, just a bit of good fun, and obviously I’m spamming every literary journal available with a flood of submissions.