Megan and I started a new online journal a few weeks ago. Though it has no relation to or affiliation with Rattle, they’re both based on the same principal — that poetry is not just for hipsters and pretentious old men in tweed jackets. Where Rattle argues that anyone can enjoy poetry, that poetry is for everyone, the Found Poetry Project argues that anyone can write poetry, and that poetry is everywhere.
Found poetry isn’t a new genre — it started at least 90 years ago, with Tristan Tzara and other Dadaists ripping up newspapers and turning the text into poems, and continues today, as with interesting books like Travis MacDonald’s The O Mission Repo, which uses an “erasure” technique (think Ruth Bavetta’s VisPo, minus the art), to carve the weighty 9/11 Commission Report into ingestible poetry. But it’s almost always been the domain of experimental poets and LANGUAGE Schoolers, and all the credit has tended to go to the “finders”, who are the real geniuses, after all, applying their literary theories onto otherwise unpoetic texts.
To my knowledge, no one has ever used found poetry the right way — as an inclusive, collaborative, populist tool for exploring the spontaneous beauty of language and thought.
The idea for the Found Poetry Project came three years ago. The Iraq War had been in full swing long enough that I was already getting tired of reading submissions to Rattle about it. Most of those submissions had their “hearts and minds” in the right place, for lack of a better phrase, and were written from a powerful core of emotion — but they often felt too forced, too obvious and predictable and repetitive. One morning I was reading a friend’s blog, and a short paragraph leapt out at me — That should be a poem, I thought. So I asked her if we could make it a poem, and we did.
For about a week, I was enthralled with plans for a Found Poetry Project, which would be an anthology of found poems that treated the original authors with the same level of respect as any other writers of poetry. Not only would it acknowledge the accidental aspect of creativity, but it would teach people to pay more attention to the beauty of everyday language. Psychologists call the act of becoming more conscious of something “attending” — we have to be attending our language, people!
I kept going. I envisioned a School of Unintentional Poetics, or some other fancy-sound name, where we focused on the spontaneity that’s inherent in all art. It’s all Zen:
You must hold the drawn bowstring like a little child holding a proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn’t think: I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing. Completely unself-consciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things, were it not completely true that the things were playing with the child.
Bad poets have too much “willful will” — they’re trying too hard, whereas random bloggers not really meaning to be poetic end up articulating a thought much more effectively. Poetry is for everyone, is by everyone, is inherent in the construction of our logophilic brains! It all ties together!
Of course, the illusions of grandeur wear thin when you don’t have the time or the expertise to pull a project like this together. Even thinner when you start to realize that, while the project is pretty cool, it’s not that revolutionary, and certainly won’t change the world.
Three years later, I know much more about how to make a website, having created two from scratch. I have plenty of room on my web hosting account, and Meg and I have enough time to spare a couple hours a week on a side project that gets us no reward other than itself.
So here is www.foundpoetry.org. To start, we’re going to try to post a new found poem every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. With enough submissions, we’ll go every weekday. And if the website gets popular enough to justify it, I’m going to add a donations button and try to raise money to turn it into a print anthology.
If this sounds like a fun project, get involved. Keep an eye out for unintentional poetry, whether it’s in a newspaper article, a blog, a letter to a friend, bathroom graffiti — anywhere you didn’t expect to find it. There are some rules, but they’re pretty simple — no editing other than lineation, punctuation, or omission. Titles are optional. We need a source. Other than that, we’re open to anything — because poetry is everywhere, after all. What do you think?