Found poetry, flarf, plunder verse, collage, non-poetry, expanded poetry, recycled text, cut ups, documentary poetry, repurposed prose, poetry from prose, poetry trouvé, ready made poetry, Google sculpting, poetry to go, déja dit, the last gasps of postmodern formal exhaustion, the leading edge of the avant-garde. Why create anything new when you can copy what already exists, add some poetic flair, a bit of postmodern intellect, and publish? Why waste your time honing the fine inefficiencies of surprising vocabulary and metaphors for a poem few will read when a search algorithm can probably do it better and quicker? Why try to do something new when you can have so much fun with what is already out there? As Craig Dworkin states “one does not need to generate new material to be a poet: the intelligent organization or reframing of already extant text is enough.”1 Regardless of what it is called (and each practitioner seems to have a slightly different definition), found poetry has long been a mainstream poetic practice and Canadian poets have been and continue to be avid practitioners of this poetic black op. At the same time, over the past decades, how found poetry has been created, what it is used for, and what it means, has changed and it is worth looking more closely at recent examples of this shift and its growing use in the poetry of protest.
Though there could be general agreement that found poetry works with existing texts, re-fashions them, re-orders them, and re-presents them, in some way, as poems, in practice found poetry should probably be seen more as a technique with varying levels of application than a poetic sub-genre. Looking at it this way, one can conceptualize found poetry along an axis that ranges from non-interventionist at one extreme (where found text is used verbatim with no or little interference from the author other than the original act of finding and excerpting) to the other end where the found text is doctored, and “poeticized,” and, perhaps, included within a larger unfound structure. Along this continuum, there exist many side variations that elude categorization altogether; here you might have texts that have been photographed (see Arnaud Maggs’ “Contaminations”), sewn (see Jen Bervin’s “Nets”), beaded (see Nadia Myre’s “Indian Act”), photocopied (see the 1970s and 80s for the plethora of photocopy art), or (and you’ll see this later) shot. There are poems that are completely found; there are poems that contain found text within larger, lyrical structures. There are poems that don’t much care about what was found but only about the procedures and rules of finding. And there are poems that only want to give you the sense of being found to add to some faux-documentary authenticity. Found poetry isn’t necessarily radical, new, or experimental—though it can be all these things—but its use brings interesting new possibilities and meaning in contemporary poetic practice. At the same time, we can see many Canadian antecedents to its current use
1 Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith, Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2011), xliv.
Shane Rhodes is Arc’s Poetry Editor. His most recent book, Err, was published by Nightwood Editions in 2011. “Reuse and Recycle: Finding Poetry in Canada” is based on a talk originally commissioned by Ottawa’s Tree Reading Series.