Writing Exercise: Found Poem

Notebook handwriting

This is an oldie but a goodie, first introduced to me by my favorite college professor, the late and great Robert Kirkpatrick. I don’t really consider myself a poet, but because of my classes with him I do try to think like one.

Start by photocopying a page of text from a dictionary or field manual or suchlike. Something with plenty of concrete nouns is best, but you can do it with nearly any kind of writing. I have even done it with a page of my own fiction drafts, but nothing beats a good old-fashioned, real-live made-from-paper dictionary. I’m partial to the American Heritage.

Skim the page for your favorite phrases (three words together or fewer), and circle or highlight them. Next, copy down these phrases in your notebook, in an order that pleases you. Cross out any words that seem off point or  less appealing to you now. Try to boil them down to the most concrete, stick-in-your-craw words.

Now, arrange the remaining words in a poem. Don’t think too hard about what a poem is or isn’t. Just arrange. Enjoy the sounds of the words together. You may want to try to make some kind of meaning out of the words, but you can also just make  interesting nonsense. You’ll be surprised at the way the words teach you. Here’s the initial list of words I came up with:

Air hunger

Compressed air


photochemical luminescence


Transporting freight

Propeller blade


 (seek) exercise






Bubble pocket



Airtight sack


Craft aircraft

Bone cavities

No weak points



upper atmosphere

Wiry tan coat


and here is my latest draft:

To craft air from the upper atmosphere—-

make it compressed, hard-surfaced—

a skyjack tight sack:

Apply pressure to the bubble pocket,

Add faint luminescence,

as if transporting freight by propeller blade.

Check for vapor in the bone cavities of the wing.

Your rudder must have no weak points in its passage.

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