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How to Find Poems, or Let Poems Find You

How One Thing Leads to Another

I’ve been wanting for some time to explore ways of blending or merging words and images, in particular, photos and poems. Partly because it’s what I’m being nudged towards for my own material, and partly because I think this would be a creative and accessible way to teach others what can happen when you start to play with words.

One of the things I wanted to explore was found poetry. I’m no expert on this, simply learning from books and google…

Found poetry is:

a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and/or lines (and consequently meaning), or by altering the text by additions and/or deletions. (from Wikipedia)

I wanted to start somewhere simple, so decided to try gathering words and phrases from magazines that I could then use to create a collaged poem (an approach described here by Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward: The Text Collage)

How Our Stories Are Interwoven

I started gathering words that were mainly related to landscapes in Scotland (I had a lot of promotional magazines from tourist boards and ferry companies in the house, and was using them as source material).

But as I started cutting I realised I was connecting to a different place and a different story.

To the lives of people I don’t know, if you buy the old-fashioned idea that you don’t ‘really’ know people online, to the moving tale of one friend helping another in the final stages of the journey from life, to death.

I did not know Nina (rhymes with China) McIntosh, educator, author, nor could you say I really know her friend, Patti Digh, simply that I know Patti’s story, her values, her teaching, her take on the world, through her words.  (And if you want a very powerful wake up call about remembering not just to smell the roses but feel her thorns, read this.)

And I realised, somehow, that what Patti had shared about the last few nights of vigil were working their way into my own words.

This is the poem that emerged, with the backdrop photo capturing a moment of illumination on the Clyde.   I’m not sure what to call this either, other than simply: thank you.

Here’s how it’s turned out:

The poem reads

Your watching heart

A summer of holding

Touch that allows attention.




Let be.

To live in the air

Only a stream between here

And complete freedom.

Thank you thank  you.

I don’t quite know what to make of this other than that I got a huge amount of personal satisfaction from creating it.  That I felt connected to a deeper story as I worked.  That I wanted and needed to share it.

And that this wasn’t really an act of finding poems at all, but letting poems find you.


Have  you ever experimented with finding poems, or letting poems find you?  What happened next?

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  2. Fred H Schlegel says:

    Hi Joanna,

    What an interesting way of approaching the poetic art form. As I write and think I find myself drifting towards things that resemble poetry, but I usually pull back because I don’t feel knowledgeable about form or comfortable with execution. But so many ideas gain power with meter and spareness. The form pulls.

    I also like how you measure your effort by personal satisfaction. That’s probably a big element of why anything I’ve done in this direction tends to land in the bin rather than up for view.

    I’ll be interested in seeing more of your ‘found poetry.’ Thanks.

  3. Melissa Donovan says:

    Joanna, this is beautiful! I’ve heard the term “found poetry” before but I didn’t realize it was the text collage (I like the “found poetry” moniker much better!). That has always been one of my favorite creativity/writing exercises. You said it was satisfying, and I say that’s a perfect word to describe the process. The art you created as a result is both heartbreaking and beautiful.

  4. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, I am completely at a loss for words, the beauty of your poem has left me speechless. So very glad this poem found you and that you heeded the pull to share. There is so much power packed in these words with a story that pulled me right in and gripped my heart and head to take notice. You have the golden touch, with every new risk you take in your writing you not only bring us along but create whole new reasons for us to fall in love with your writing. xo

  5. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Fred thanks so much for your most thoughtful comment. I know what you mean about pulling back from not knowing ‘form’ and see so many others doing likewise. But really, although we can learn from what others have done before us, although trying out different forms can help our creative minds to respond and stretch into them, at heart I believe poetry is an inbuilt form of self-expression, something we have inside. At heart it’s rhythm, and that is entirely natural.

    Learning to go with personal satisfaction as a measure is an important way for me to get past the inner critic. I also have a commitment to testing exploring and sharing as part of what I do here - if I’m going to write about writing with confidence I’d better practice the same!

    Melissa thanks so much for your comment - and for the article you wrote that helped me find my way into this. Some guides I found were over-complicated and were getting in the way of me getting started, yours showed me the way in. Working with my hands on the tangible words was deeply satisfying in a way I can’t yet explain, and I long to do more of it (and then show others how).

    Karen I think I will make myself an ebook of the comments that you have written for me here. They are so precious to me, I feel you know me so well, and yet you also see things I’d never acknowledge in myself. Thank you thank you x