A writing exercise from our unit on the phrase.
Write a poem made of found phrases. “Found” means you don’t make them up yourself—you see or hear them around you. “Phrase” means more than a single word, less than a full sentence. Choose one kind of source to take your materials from. A few possibilities:
- bits of overheard (or misheard) conversation
- first phrases of poems in an anthology
- phrases seen in print ads (magazines, posters, billboards)
Avoid song titles and song lyrics—they tend to be clichéd and to make clichéd poems. Find a source that offers bits of language you feel eager to mess around with.
It’s okay to make small changes (e.g., removing a verb to turn a sentence into a phrase, or changing verb tense to make two phrases line up) but avoid introducing any words of your own.
You may not be able to make the sort of sense you wish to. Let the material lead and you follow. Instead of worrying about making sense—focus on setting up resonances.
An example, from John Ashbery’s “Title Search” (though not in fact a found poem it reads like one):
The Little Red Church. The Hotel District.
I’ll Eat a Mexican. The Heritage of Froth.
The Trojan Comedy. Water to the Fountain. Memoirs of a Hermit Crab.
The Ostrich Succession. Exit Pursued by a Turkey.
In the Pound. The Artist’s Life. On the Beautiful Blue Danube.
Less Is Roar. The Bicyclist. The Father.
(Most of these are phrases. Which ones aren’t?)
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