Found Poems

This may be the most fun you'll have all week.

Start with a book and a theme.  My class was talking about secrets in the Scarlet Letter, specifically those kept by the friends Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth from each other.  We compared notes: some of us said secrets thrilled and excited us, while others felt burdened and guilty having to carry them around.  (I'm in the second camp. Planning a surprise party for Rob was one of the most excruciating experiences of our marriage; I hadn't anticipated how much lying and sneaking around I'd have to do, all in preparation for that one glorious expression of shock on his face.)

Now, open your book to a somewhat-random page.  Underline or highlight your favorite words and phrases -- the most poetic-sounding ones, even if you don't necessarily understand them.  You're going for the feel of the words more than anything else.

Next, start playing with said phrases to compose your own.  This will be much easier if you've ever used Magnetic Poetry: picture each word as a movable object, and enjoy the sound of the words next to each other and the shifts that take place when they're shuffled.  Changing endings is okay (-ed to -ing, etc.)  Borrow from other words and sentences.  In fact, try not to keep too many words together.  Use only words on the page, though -- these parameters are limiting, but that's what's fun about it.

My students were a little intimidated by the assignment at first, but they relaxed quite a bit after I modeled one for them, and they saw that rhyme, meter and grammatical rules were truly suspended.  They amazed me, as they often do: their poems reflected great depth of thought and understanding about a text that is really quite obtuse at times.

You want to hear mine?  Oh, okay:
In Utter Darkness

Those ugly, tortured nights,

Not deluded by the power to smile;

The realities were unspeakable, false misery.

Constant introspection, solid

On sorrow-laden shoulders;

In the remote dimness,

Diabolic shapes grow more bitter

And become shadows.

The whole universe is false

To the untrue man.