Found Poem Exercise:
(from Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises,
by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford; excerpted from pages 3-5)
A nice thing about “found” and “headline” poems: you don’t start from scratch … You find interesting, ordinary “prose” … Plenty of strong and beautiful poems are made from plain language … So, poems hide in things you and others say and write … This exercise is about keeping your ears and eyes alert to the possibilities in ordinary language …
Find from fifty to one hundred words you like …
Copy in the sequence in the language you found. Double space between lines so it’s easy to work with.
Study the words you found. Cut out everything that’s … unnecessary … Try to cut your original find in half … Change punctuation if you need to … adding your own words to the found words is “illegal” … (but) when you’re close to an edited-down version, and you truly need to add a word or two — to smooth things out, to make sense, to make a point — you may add up to two words of your own … Make other little changes, too — tenses, possessives, plurals, punctuation, and capitalizations.
Read your cut-down draft one more time … Put the words into your notebook, spacing or arranging them so they’re poem-like. (Sometimes you’ll put key words at the ends or beginnings of lines. Sometimes, for interest or surprise, you may want to break up words that often “go together”…)
At the bottom of the poem, say where you found the original.