A Found Poem

Found poem_HuenThis 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.


Jack Thacker: The Limitations of the Plough

Some thoughts and a poem

Detail_of_Les_tres_riches_heures_-_March(March detail from the calendar Les très riches heures, 15th century.)

In Christopher Pitt’s 1753 translation of The Aeneid, Joseph Warton comments in a footnote that the ‘ancients generally marked the limits of their cities or encampments with a plough. This they drew round in a circle: hence some imagine, that urbs is derived from orbis, or urbum, which is the plough-tail’ (Warton ed., 290-291). Surprisingly, the plough – the most rustic of tools – was what Kurt Heinzelman refers to as ‘the first implement of the map-maker’s craft’ (Heinzelman, 201). Not only did it define the limitations of cities in ancient civilisations, but it may even be the etymological origin for our current conception of what constitutes the ‘urban’. Of course, the plough is also related to the origins of poetry. The term ‘verse’ derives from the Latin versus, a line or row, which itself comes from vertere, meaning to turn from one line to another in the sense of ploughing a field.

It strikes me that this tool of manual labour is both connected to our sense of the urban as well as the urbane activity of verse writing. Evidently, the ubiquitous instrument is far more sophisticated – and therefore requires more sophisticated metaphors – than we currently give it credit for. Gaston Bachelard writes that ‘clichés of the plough have masked the real power in such imagery so well that extensive psychoanalysis would be necessary to free literature from its false cultivators’ (Bachelard, 11). I’m afraid I’m not able to offer any such treatment here, but I have tried work through at least some of the implications of the technologies and measurements traced out above in the following poem.

I imposed some limitations on myself in adopting the sonnet form. The ‘corduroy path’ in line 8 refers to a section of the Wilberforce Way, a footpath stretching from Hull to York which was devised as a tribute to mark the bicentenary of the 1807 Slave Trade Act introduced by the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who was born in Hull. Corduroy roads are so called because they are made up of logs laid perpendicular to the direction of travel in order improve accessibility in low or marshy areas. This particular part of the way was originally made in 1762 following the enclosure of the commons. It now connects the campus of the University of York with the agricultural Vale of York via a remaining patch of rough pasture known as the Out Gang.


The Out Gang

Viewed from orbit, the M25 might be defined
as a wire of light, a bracelet of gold, or the wall
of a cell. In ancient times, when marking the land,
a chief would draw a circle with the plough-tail;
this would define the limits of an encampment.
I lived within sight of old city walls, between
Walmgate Bar and the A64, and sometimes went
south on the corduroy path from Heslington

out to the Vale, sleepers buried in the ground,
the marshland tamed. Eventually I’d reach
a hedgerow of sound, tyres careering on grit.
Alone and miles from any main road, I heard it
again in the trees, like waves crashing on a beach,
the roar of a distant crowd carried on the wind.


Jack Thacker grew up on a farm in Herefordshire. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter researching contemporary British and Irish poetry and agriculture. He holds a BA and MA from the University of York and is the co-founder of the York-based poetry magazine, Eborakon.


Works Cited

The Works of Virgil, in Latin and English, trans, Christopher Pitt and Joseph Warton, ed. Joseph Warton, vol. III (London, 1753)

Kurt Heinzelman, ‘Roman Georgic in the Georgian Age: A Theory of Romantic Genre,’ Texas Studies in Literature and Language 33, no. 2, Romans and Romantics (Summer: 1991)

Gaston Bachelard, Earth and Reveries of Will: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter, trans. Kenneth Haltman (Dallas: Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 2002


James Coghill – Poem and thoughts

Bengt Crantz


after the artist’s self portrait


jowls with accents of boiled ham

dare me to come closer


to where the muzzle breaks through

and his nose triangles up,


stretching the philtrum taut,

as he bites down on his inside lip,


eyes, stretched and blank

as the skin of a boiled egg.


This is self-effacement, I swear it.

Crantz: nothing but a haughty squint


cross-eyed with nerves,

conger eel lurking behind the canvas


he boils with pigment, rollicks

unsuspecting fabric


to elver art, to garter snake orgy,

to a Västergötland scene’s,


deep tourette’s, its ancient tic:

humpbacked and hoary


landscape wrought and textured.

It’s this I covet: long to match myself against,


to break the laws of this place,

to feel, at once, that artful Utland


stretched out across the proffered

lifeline heartline headline of my hand.


This poem catalogues my reaction to the Swedish artist Bengt Crantz’s ‘Svälvporträtt’ which I saw last year at an exhibition in Borås Museum. In the poem, I attempted to give voice to a frustrated kind of ekphrasis intermingling descriptions of Crantz’s artworks with my responses to them. Chief among these is the envy I feel for the tactile effect that he produces in his landscapes. He does this through using especially thick brushstrokes, building up a remarkably textured surface. Encountering this use of texture, I found it a struggle not to reach out across the velvet ropes to feel the surface of these paintings and resented Crantz for having created something so simultaneously touchable and untouchable. What I wrote as a response is, therefore, a kind of substitute for transgressing the law of the art gallery by following my impulse to touch (and therefore deface) Crantz’s artwork. This tension, between touch and untouch is something I cannot help but find analogous to the modern experience of the natural world. Despite it being there on a daily basis, it remains resistant to our understanding. I hope this comes across in what I came up with and that my use of ekphrasis comes close to doing the artist’s work a kind of justice…

James Coghill is an ecopoet currently clinging to the edge of the country by his fingertips. Most recently he has had poems published in Blackbox Manifold, Sidekick Books, Lives Beyond Us and The Emma Press Anthology of Dance. He has interests in Swedish language and culture, Christian mysticism, and (of course) ecology He blogs here: https://thesolenette.wordpress.com/