This is a found poem I created by taking words and phrases from a classmate’s essay. I have been attending Tabish Khair’s creative writing workshops, and once, he asked us to write a three-part essay about a domestic item we could recall from childhood—the same item we have now, and will have ten or a hundred years from now. As we turned up with the essays typed and printed out, we discussed the writing in pairs, and the challenges we encountered as we wrote.
Tabish then asked us to snip out redundant words or phrases from each essay and construct a poem from the bits and pieces that were left. And so this found poem emerged, born from the off-cuts of a classmate’s essay. The orange stroke underneath the title is the only added component. As you read the poem, you might guess what domestic item my classmate wrote about. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.
The process of piecing these fragments together was challenging because the ‘writing’ was restricted, just as a poet restricts his writing by adopting the form of a sonnet. Tabish has advocated the importance limitations as we write, because one of the pitfalls of writing in free verse is forgetting to push ourselves hard enough as we settle on a particular line or image.
In the essay, the word ‘itch’ referred to a strong desire to do something rather than the skin condition it describes, or reimagines, in the found poem. This is an example that shows through cutting and pasting, the fragments not only become a new piece of writing but also allow words and phrases to take on new meanings.
Recently I have been inspired to transform experience I had as I write poetry, which is what I attempted to do in this found poem. By exploring how a bodily itch can be reimagined using childhood imagery, I sought to demonstrate how the genre of found poetry can help us achieve what the poem calls ‘maximum game turnover’. Just as we reimagine an experience in a poem, we can create as many poems out of the same pile of words and phrases. This is, in some sense, what writing a poem is all about: multiple trials before an idea or message is best communicated in the most interesting way. Found poetry is much more than patching slips together.
Antony Huen is a first-year PhD candidate at the University of York, where he researches how contemporary poets draw inspirations from visual art. He is a recurring contributor to Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. He was born and grew up in Hong Kong.