‘Found Poetry’ or How to Find Poems Where You Least Expect Them.

Central Australia 2011
Central Australia 2011

I suppose shaping words into poems is not too hard, however, creating a poem that others like or appreciate is difficult. This task, like all creative writing,  is worth pursuing – a challenge that can be fun.

I try to bring new ideas to class, to stretch the imagination of  students. It’s good to  move  out of  comfort zones, adapt, perhaps extend and improve writing skills. Many of my students went to school in an era where poetry was defined by set verses, set rhymes. They usually read works by  Wordsworth, Tennyson, Byron, Keats, Coleridge, Rosetti, Hope, Eliot… great and famous poets, but they provide only a small percentage of the poetry written, not only in our culture, but elsewhere.

A way of learning about poetry and how poets work is to write your own poems. Writing a Found Poem means you don’t start from scratch – rather you look for words, phrases, similes, metaphors, headlines, titles, – any text that appeals to you – and use it in a poem. You find interesting or ordinary prose  – look for strong verbs, concrete nouns, words with a richness and interest that fires imagination.

Found poems are excellent for understanding the essence of a piece of writing or seeking the essence not apparent in the prose. You choose words and distance yourself from the original writing while creating a different form by transforming the words into your poem.

War Exhibited
Mairi Neil
(a found poem from an article in Royal Auto magazine)

Night follows day
Rain turns to sun
And tanks roll
20,000 kilometres away.
After extensive planning,
As if choreographed
Buildngs are devastated
barbed wire erected
parapets protected.
But the impact of war
These are real people
Not artefacts.
Giant screens
In our lounge rooms
Evocative deep shadows
Of horror revisited
in sequence
Locating, arranging, recording
With focused narrative
Force us to embrace
The world at war.

Maybe there is a snatch of conversation you recorded in your writer’s notebook, an idea triggered by a piece of junk mail, a moving phrase in a story, a striking word in a newspaper article, a fascinating headline or book title.

Hopeful Ageing
Mairi Neil
(a found poem from advertisements for seniors)

A health breakthrough
Ultimate comfort
Never again
Aching joints
Problem toes
Swollen ankles and feet
Strained muscles
Hand pain
Knee discomfort
Blemishes and age spots…
A body shaper
To improve blood pressure
Mobility without straining
No slipping, sliding…
Warm, soothing, soft as silk companion
Retain independence
Quality of life
Reduce exercise
And take advantage of
Extra support
Never needs sharpening
Perfect relief
What is this breakthrough?

Why – it’s a miracle!

Poems – short or long, form or free verse –  language rearranged, emotions hidden until the possibilities of language explored and shared.


Using existing text to construct a poem lessens the demands of writing, but gives the opportunity for creativity and imagination. When a poem eventuates there is a sense of satisfaction. It increases a knowledge of words and builds confidence.

The Necklace
Mairi Neil
(a found poem based on The Necklace, a short story by Guy de Maupassant)

She drew near
‘At last it is done!’
I examined my sister closely
As if for the first time.
No jewellery –
Where was the necklace?
She was the prettiest
No need of fancy dresses

Where was the necklace?
It is done…?
‘Are you not making a mistake?
Selling an inheritance worth
Millions’ – I turn away
‘How dare you!’

She was always the prettiest
Now she is the wealthiest.
What blunder of destiny
Made us sisters?
My unhappiness chokes me –
Or will strangle her…

Found poetry helps demonstrate we can all construct poetry using the everyday as inspiration. We learn how poetry works and how to experiment with poetic form, using the various creative tools and language conventions we know, in an enjoyable way. Writing found poems is about keeping your ears and eyes alert to the possibilities of ordinary language.


To have fun is rule number one!  If the poem is written in stages it helps lessen the sense of panic and confusion some students have when asked to try something new and ‘think outside the box’.

Ten Simple Steps For Writing a Found Poem

1. Choose an article, a short story, a novel, a cereal packet, junk mail, newspaper headlines, obituaries, letters, bulletin boards, menus, advertisements – whatever piece of prose you want. You can even use several sources for one poem. Check your notebook for ideas, dialogue, words you may have noted.
(NB: Do not use other poems or song lyrics – they’re already poetry!!)

2. Find 50 to 150 words you like – cut them out, highlight or underline them. Remember these must be interesting words, but not necessarily unusual – strong words the key.

3. Copy the words/language (it may be a phrase) in the order you ‘found’ them.

4. Study the words carefully (this is why 150 is a good number) and remove any that are dull, offensive, sound a bit ‘off’. Reduce your number by half. With the words left, you can change punctuation and tense of you want, perhaps capitalise – a word may be a common noun easily adapted to a proper noun etc. , make the words into a possessive or plural.

5. Work on these words, maybe pare some more, until you have a cohesive poem developing. You might have to add a few words of your own although the secret is to make minimum additions – it is a found poem after all!

6. Arrange the words – maybe key words are put at beginning of lines, or perhaps the end. Maybe words going together can be split and put on different lines. Think of ending each line on a notable sound. Keep the reader’s interest . What are you trying to say?

7. Read the poem aloud as you work, listen to where you want to pause. Do the words sound good and is pacing right? Listen for the rhythm.

8. When reading your poem consider a title.

9. With found poems the rules are yours – you can change fonts, use form poetry, be as creative as you want. There are few conventions to worry about – and anyway you make the rules just as you choose the words to include!

10. As a footnote, or included under the title you can give credit to the source of your found poem(see above), particularly if all the words are taken from a story or novel.

eg. From Chapter Four, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
     From Mordialloc Chelsea News, What’s On Section.
    Overheard while waiting for a train on the Frankston Line.
    From Myer’s Winter Catalogue.

The process of recasting the text you are reading in a different genre will help you become a more insightful reader and develop creativity in thinking and writing. Don’t be too concerned about the ideas in the article/story you choose, focus on the words, the headings, the language.

Arrange your word list, break the words into lines, add punctuation if desired, determine the use of white space, the lay out, and you have created a found poem!


Good luck and happy writing!

2 thoughts on “‘Found Poetry’ or How to Find Poems Where You Least Expect Them.

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