Like everything else with which I’m mildly interested, I’ve developed an attachment to erasure poetry since researching it for the presentation on form, so when I saw Nicole’s last post on the morality of found poetry I felt that I should give my take on the issue in a comment on her post, but that got too long and I had to turn it into its own post, which is as follows:
Equating a poet’s remixing (for lack of a better term) of poetry by other writers to plagiarism seems to me the same as calling a person who digs through trash heaps for discarded materials to turn into a collage. The issue of there being “only so many words to play with in so many combinations” doesn’t strike me as a reason that someone would want to create a piece in any subsection of found poetry – there are, at last Google search, 1,025,109.8 words in the English language, and the combinations and permutations of those words are something that I don’t think any Creative Writing major is equipped to think about. The point of found poetry is to find new meaning from existing words, and giving it the status of something that is made when its author cannot think of ways to put together new words feels to me like a devaluing of the work of the poet who takes texts which in many cases (erasures of Dante, Dickens, Milton, etc.) have the cultural connotations of being fixed and untouchable and makes them newly relevant and meaningful.
As to the issue of ownership of poetry and the removal of the original author, this seems to me to be one of the main goals of found poetry. This concern that was brought up in the post reminded me really strongly of something addressed in David Richter’s book How We Read: “Today’s authors may capitalistically consider their words as a form of private property, but that was not always the case. In the Middle Ages, for instance, many writers and artists worked anonymously, just as the craftsmen who built the cathedrals did. The valorization of the Author as a public figure in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is, for the philosopher Michel Foucault, a pathology of our era — along with the concept of the ownership of discourse and other intellectual property. For Foucault, the idea of the Author becomes a way of restricting access to discourse, of limiting the right to speak or write to a few approved and canonized authors. He predicts that when the modern age passes, all discourse will have “the anonymity of a murmur,” and we will be able to say (and mean) “What does it matter who is speaking?” This is from a section of the book that discusses authorial intent, and it seems to be a good summation of what found poetry is able to do. Bringing issues of copyright and plagiarism to a discussion of found poetry seems to miss the point – this kind of poetry is meant to circumvent those ideas. To say that found poetry is allowed by “creative spirit inherent in poetry” seems too specific — the creative spirit that is attached to all forms of expression allows this.