Tutorial: Found Poetry, Raw Art

Found poetry is the discovery of hidden words and phrases in text that was written for another purpose entirely–a catalog or magazine article, for example. The poem is not found all together, you’ll find a word here, a few more six lines down.

I find this accidental discovery a perfect match for raw art--which is drawing abstract patterns that are pleasing, exciting, soothing, or engaging. Both are a discovery and both result in the creation of something new.

You can make up a variety of rules to make found poetry more challenging–mine are simple: You choose a set number of pages from a catalog, book, or magazine and find words or phrases that, when cut out and placed next to each other, make poetry. No fair using song lyrics or pieces that are already poetry.

Be careful to cut out words that are grammatically correct in the place you want to use them. That might mean cutting out extra letters. Because you are creating a collage  the words can be different typefaces, sizes or colors.

Then you add raw art–in this case a repetitive topographical pattern, with a suggestion of plant life, to match the seasonal theme of the poetry and to emphasize the word “freedom” and the tribal feel.

Horizon Dust

Time around us moves faster.
The seed that was sown 20 years ago
sweeps into the season raw-edged and tribal.
New growth, striped in rich autumnal hues,
moving to a new feeling and a new freedom
blossoming forth.

Found poetry with raw-art © Quinn McDonald 2009 All rights reserved

All the words in “Horizon Dust” comes from a variety of clothing descriptions in two pages of the Sundance fall catalog.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who stands in the middle ground between words and illustrations, believing they both make meaning and create art. © Quinn McDonald, 2009 All rights reserved

14 thoughts on “Tutorial: Found Poetry, Raw Art

    • In some ways, all line art is alike. My emphasis in coaching and in class is to let each person develop the feel and rhythm that expresses the emotion they feel in their words. People say they can’t draw because what they draw does not look like what they have in front of them. Showing them a design to copy allows that self-defeating competition to worm in. Without an object to compare, your own imagination blossoms and runs free. That’s where raw art comes in–patterns that make sense to you, that are fluid and express what you see and write. You never have to ask, “does this look right?” –if you feel happy about your work, it is right.

  1. I didn’t know “found poetry” was even had a name until last week when I was “taught” the method at a workshop. I’ve been doing it for years when I couldn’t manage “real poetry” and love it. Pairing it with raw art is perfect, isn’t it? For those of us who sometimes get lost in the place where we feel we can neither draw nor write – no problems! A solution is right here! We can create using raw art/found poetry and come up with fantastic creations. Thanks for adding the art form to the words – this is a combination I will definitely do.

    They’d be fun for your postcard project, too! 🙂

  2. Well sure, Eliot made some excellent points. Meaning is a slippery concept, though, and although I haven’t read all of Eliot, I remember thinking he was a bit of a stick-in-the-mud about it. And a real wet blanket about Hamlet, too. (that was him, wasn’t it, “Hamlet was a failure of a play” and all that? 🙂

      • Ah, so that WAS him about Hamlet! I can’t believe I remembered that. Anyway I dunno; my general impression of Eliot — such that I have one at all — is of a kind of a stick in the mud! At the time, mind you, I was way more into surrealists and the beats and Burroughs.

        • I have always been fond of The Waste Land and Ash Wednesday. I have had a series of dreams where I do installation artwork of The Waste Land–one was a tapestry beading and another was a set of Tarot cards–both based on The Waste Land. Just a dream, but still . . .

  3. Brion Gysin used (and some say created) the “cut up” technique, at least according to William Burroughs, and Tristan Tzara (surrealist) allegedly did something similar in 1920 by picking words out of a hat to construct a poem. It’s a weirdly interesting technique, more so when more randomness is integrated into the process. Naked Lunch is hard to read consecutively, but when read at random it makes an eerie kind of sense. That this kind of thing doesn’t devolve into undifferentiated noise suggests that when you write, you’re not creating meaning at all; you’re suggesting it. Meaning is constructed out of collaboration with the reader. Or maybe entirely by the reader, for that matter.

    • I know you know a lot, Pete, but meaning making is my expertise–meaning is what a creative person reaches when they are in the flow of creation. Meaning making is personal and private, and an artist creates and benefits from in while completely alone and engaged in the creative process. They can then show their work to others, and if someone else recognizes meaning in it, the viewer (or reader) makes their own meaning, separate but related to that of the artist. T.S. Elliot was approaching it when he talked about the objective correlative.


    Out West, where men are men and
    aeronautical maps are a solid brown,
    a pilot is subject to the laws of thin air,
    and in summer in the West—thin air
    thinned out still more by heat.

    This is a “found poem”—the words found in a narrative discussion of density altitude in the classic aviation book Stick and Rudder, an Explanation of the Art of Flying, by Wolfgang Langewiesche (1944; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972, pages 377-78). The poet (me) provided the title, omitted intervening words, and formatted the text into verse.

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