Found Poetry

American, the Hallelujah is a found poem – meaning, of course, that the author found these words elsewhere and reordered, edited, etc to make this poem. The poem immediately made me question first, the validity or originality of found poetry, and second, if being a ‘found’ poem helped this poem gain any meaning.

While the structure of the alphabetical progress was cool, and we definitely got some great rhythm out of all that punctuation, I struggled to garner any ‘message’ from the poem, especially with things like ‘From every stormy’ (perhaps referencing affliction?) and ‘Hear what the voice’ written in. I did enjoy some of the sounds in this poem – the s-section in particular rolled over me nicely, but the rest of it was so punctuated I felt like I was being stopped over and over and over. It made it so choppy, it got irritating. I tried to find a message – a theme – and found, perhaps, the hardships of our nation that bind us ‘trembling captives’ together? Thoughts?

And then the validity of found poetry. I know poetry seems to be a genre with infinite rules, and the infinite capacity to break or re-arrange them, but it seems like ‘found poetry’ is a pretty way to advocate plagarism. I think if I went up to my literature professor and presented a ‘found essay’ they would not be terribly receptive. What is it about poetry that allows other people’s words, rearranged and tweaked, to become a new person’s art? Is there a rule for how much can be ‘found’ from one source, or how much it must be changed to become new? How do we determine when someone has simply added line breaks to another’s thoughts and claimed ‘originality’? Could the author have gotten across this theme better using his own original words, or is there something especially poignant in those recollected phrases from ‘America the Beautiful’?


4 Replies to “Found Poetry”

  1. I would like to comment on the last paragraph of this post. As I read that last paragraph I was reminded of a couple of moments I’ve shared with certain peers on hazy weekend nights here at Geneseo. During these nights we sat and listened to the latest kinds of music, which are predictably composed from other popular songs and mixed into one single piece of art. My issue with these songs has always been what yours is, “how do we determine when someone has simply added line breaks to another’s thoughts and claimed ‘originality’? ” And has our interpretation of ‘art’ or ‘original’ then shifted throughout the years? I mean, is a compilation of different works, still original? How could it not be, if it sounds entirely different from the initial product? And how could it be, if it is composed of nothing new. Some of my friends say that original simply means transforming that which already exists, finding an innovative way to use it for something other than what it was intended to be used. And some, like me, have trouble understanding how originality could be anything other than a brand new idea.

  2. Hi guys!
    I think this is an interesting concept of originality going on here. I mean, if you really think about it, writers compose works based on everything they have ever read–so aren’t we all constantly plagiarizing each other? It’s an interesting question but I think the answer is no. We are not taking other writers work word for word, rather, we are morphing together everything we have ever read along with everything we have ever seen, heard, touched, felt and so on. We melt experiences together and I think that’s what makes work original.

    I didn’t particularly like “America, The Hallelujah.” I think the poem ends on an ominous note “Ye trembling captives.” I don’t find Messer to be plagiarizing because there is an excerpt at the bottom stating that it is a found poem, and most poets know that found poems are poems created entirely of someone else’s work.


  3. Hello everyone!

    I would have to agree with Arianna. Most aspects of life seem like a regurgitation of ‘stuff’ (to be really general), not just biologically speaking but in the way that we form personality and arrive at new ideas. I don’t think that creation (or the thinking up of an original idea) is very different from rearrangement, because we all create using something that is preexisting. In a broad way, everything that we write is ‘found.’

    I think that theft becomes a problem more in terms of intent, for instance an author could easily steal and idea but use their own ‘original’ words to communicate the stolen idea, while another author might focus on using all the same words that are in a preexisting poem, while changing the meaning completely in their reconfiguration.

    I think that poetry can be an especially effective medium for ‘found’ writing because the meaning of a poem is often directly and strongly related to the specific and uncompromising organization and order and emphases of it’s words, making huge shifts in meaning very possible through minute changes in language placement. In this way ‘found’ poetry can alter a readers relationship to words by demonstrating that it is not always the words themselves that we derive our meaning from, that in fact the very words that seemed to mean one thing to us in one formation are capable of meaning the exact opposite.


  4. Hey everyone,
    I wasn’t terribly fond of “America, the Hallelujah” either. I struggled to see any coherence between ideas in the poem. It does have a nice rhythm in some places (such as from the first line up until “another year”). I also like that it’s chock-full of short, blunt declarations (something I love in poetry) like “The billows swell. The cloud hath filled. / The day is past.” However, I found that it read too much like a song index by first line rather than a poem (which is probably due to the fact that many of the lines are first lines of hymns). While I don’t consider a ‘found poem’ to be plagiarism, I don’t think it’s the most innovative form a poet could adopt, either. I think as a creative exercise to get the poetic juices flowing, it could work really well–it allows the writer to reorganize some of their favorite lines from other writers, combining the study of existing works with the creation of new ones. As a finished product, though, ‘found poems’ just aren’t as exciting for me as regular ones. I agree that all art is a regurgitation (as Christy put it) of existing art, but I also believe that the best “regurgitation” involves being inspired by existing things as opposed to copying them directly.

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