In my Composition II class, we’ve been discussing writing. We’ve read bits from Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and Georgia Heard’s Writing Toward Home, and we’ve practiced writing using exercise from or inspired by those books. Today we used Georgia Heard’s “Found Poetry” prompt — “Gather books, newspapers, magazines, old journals, and first write down interesting words and sentences, then weave them together to make a found piece of writing.”
There are ten students in the class so we decided to make this a collaborative effort. First we took five minutes to find materials — our own daybooks, textbooks, sheet music plus stuff lying around like newspapers, flyers, discussion question handouts, pamphlets, Bibles. One student even took the Honor Code off the wall and added it to the mix.
Next, we sorted through the materials and found two lines each — some people used lines as they found them and others mashed lines together to make new ones. As each student found lines, he/she wrote them on the board. Finally, we read it and sorted it. They told me how to order the lines. One student typed it, then we added white space.
Here’s the result:
There was so much energy in the room as we compiled, edited, laughed, negotiated. It was an amazing experience. We talked about where our words had come from and we discussed intellectual property rights. The questions that we work so hard for them to care about in Comp II came to them as natural implications of what we had done. Whose is this? Did we plagiarize? What if we are making art — is it plagiarism then? Do you make a Works Cited page for a found poem?
By the end of class, they wanted to set it up as an art installation — the poem, the materials, the questions about intellectual property — and they wanted to submit the poem to a journal. I left class with my heart thumping. This is why we teach. This is why we slog through grad school and pay student loans. When we throw something at them and they gleefully catch it and run with it — that’s a good day.