For a few years now the New York Times has run a ‘found’ poetry competition. I’ve never caught it at the right time to enter before and this was my last chance because you need to be 13-25 when you enter.
This is the idea:
What’s a found poem? A good nutshell description would be “poems that are composed from words and phrases found in another text.” A New York Times found poem, then, uses words and phrases taken from one Times article, past or present, or several — and since the paper has been publishing since 1851, choosing which Times article(s) to use is often the hardest part.
I chose the announcement of Walt Whitman’s death from March 27th 1982.
To start with I read it over a few (okay, nine) times. I printed out the article twice, and scribbled all over the first one – highlighting all of the phrases and words that I really liked. I wanted the poem to reflect Whitman’s own ideas about death. He wrote often about dying and the afterlife. He admired people who had a calm readiness for death and often attended vigils for people who were dying or ill. His poem ‘To Think of Time’ was influenced by visits to hospitals and seeing cholera victims. Whitman wrote of death as a divine mystery rather than focusing on the violent death on battlefields. He saw existence as a continuum and I don’t think was afraid of dying or doubted an eternal life of sorts. I read many of his poems and several articles from the Encyclopedia of Walt Whitman before I started forming the poem so I knew what I wanted it to say from the start.
Once I had something that looked pretty much as good as it was going to get I took my clean copy of the article and went through the poem to make certain that I’d not added anything of my own. The competition allows you to use two words of your own but I really didn’t want to do that.
So that has been entered. But more importantly I plan on writing more poems like this. Since I finished that poem I have been working on new poems from UK based newspapers – it’s a type of poetry I want to explore more.
If you are interested in poetry please do keep checking back here as there is going to be a seriously fun announcement coming up in the next couple of weeks…