More poems found in unlikely places

Two more poems from nonpoetic sources.

Juan Gris, Portrait of the Artist's Mother

Juan Gris, Portrait of the Artist’s Mother

I put the source of the first one after the poem itself, because I’m curious how easily you can tell what it’s about. Please leave a comment letting me know.



This poem was—how shall I say?—carved out of an article in the January 2017 Vogue, describing its author’s ambivalence about having plastic surgery, then having it anyway. Sorry, no link—it isn’t online. And I don’t have a copy of the original page because it wasn’t my magazine and I didn’t feel I could rip out the pages.

This next one comes from an interview in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.


In these days especially, I appreciate this generous, even open-hearted posture. Here’s one of the original pages:


These are such fun to do, and they’re easy. So I wondered why this form worked right away for me, while it didn’t for my mentee, who’s a really good poet but had difficulty getting the hang of it.

I decided it has to do with my long experience as an editor, book doctor, and ghostwriter. I’ve trained myself to spot the evocative, resonant phrases in a disorganized mass of text. I can perceive the underlying logic of a disordered string of sentences and reassemble them to express it. And I’ve learned to write and edit in other people’s voices (notably, writing an entire book in the he-man voice of a gym rat and bodybuilder). In the same way, a found poem distills an original text into an essence. At least I feel these do, in a weird way.

I suspect that in the hands of a real poet, found poetry would be a whole lot more, but I’m happy just to discover a knack for something I never thought I could do.



  1. The Dartmouth poem was done in a workshop where sources were provided in a shopping bag to each small group, and everyone pounced at the same time, so this was the best choice I could get hold of. I don’t know if I need something deeply personal to work with, but it does have to be quirky or resonant or weird, and this was a dry-tongued administrator talking. If he hadn’t mentioned those problems I don’t know if I could have produced anything at all.

    Your interpretation of the plastic surgery poem is so interesting. I find producing these poems is not at all an analytic process, instead totally intuitive, so I hadn’t really thought about what they might ‘mean.’

  2. I got in the first poem that a transformation was afoot. I thought it might be a sex-change operation! The drama. Addressing the old self from the hope of the new and then from the new self. Very evocative about how we feel about our outsides from the inside. The Dartmouth poem worked less well for me. For me, poetry is most effective when it is deeply personal.

    1. Thanks–it makes sense to me but I wasn’t sure how plausible it would sound to anyone else. But could you tell the first one was about plastic surgery?

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