Poems in Plain Sight

December 2, 2010

One form of poetry that has always intrigued me is the so-called “found” poem. These are the poems that started out life as something else: part of a textbook, or a manual, or any other prose form that is decidedly not poetry.

But then something magic happens. By altering the form of the text (not the words themselves, or the order in which they appear, but rather the spaces between the lines), it becomes poetry. To me, the cool thing is that it’s the same words, but with a meaning that’s completely different, and often quite profound.

Art is subjective. Meaning comes from not only from the work, but from what the audience brings to that work. Since each of us have different histories and associations, experiences and emotions, I guess that means that you’ll never see a piece the same way as someone else. Heck, since we grow and evolve throughout our lives, that probably means our own individual viewpoint changes every time we interact with art. I remember the first time I got the religious allegories in the Narnia books. C.S. Lewis had always intended them, and they were always there for him, but they weren’t there for me until I’d matured a bit. And now that I’ve seen them, I can’t view those books in the same way. What has been thought cannot be un-thought.

All of which to say that when you alter the form of words, you alter the way in which you approach the text, and thus, what you bring to it. That’s why a hidden layer of profundity emerges; your mind is viewing the words before it not as a cut-and-dried textbook, but as poetry. So, I suppose purpose also influences the meaning you get from art. Most of us have probably had the experience of reading and enjoying a book, and then studying it in a high school English and hating it. Different purpose, different experience, different meanings.

Here is an example I made, from an ancient, time-worn book by a woman named Martha Evans Martin. It’s called The Friendly Stars, and seems to be a star-gazing guide from the 1930s.

The moon comes

and goes.

She is the symbol of inconstancy.

The planets wander

from place to place- most of them

 easy enough to find, but

 continually changing

 in brightness and position.

 Only the stars are always the same.

I think the idea of found poetry appeals to me most because it implies that poetry is everywhere, hiding in your peripheral vision.  Waiting for you to look at it askance, and recognize it as something else.




  1. Thanks for the shift of perspective. 🙂

  2. It’s amazing how much punctuation changes meaning. A single comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

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