Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsHi, my name is Helen Mort. I'm a poet. And I'm also a lecturer in creative writing in the Manchester Writing School. And I'm going to talk to you a little bit today about found poetry and the process of writing a found poem. So I always think that trying to write a found poem is more like whittling down a sculpture than it is doing a painting. It's more a process of finding one text in another. I actually wrote this found poem "Skirt" after reading an article on Wikipedia about 1920s women's fashion.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 secondsI was really struck by how some of the language in the article seemed quite quaint when you put it into a modern context-- references to women's ankles, inappropriate attire-- and so I started taking out those phrases and arranging them on the page to see if I could get an interesting effect from those individual lines. And when I did, I found that I'd got a kind of three-line stanza form. So that gave me the shape for the rest of the poem. Often, when I'm writing a poem, I'm looking for a second idea to intersect with the first idea that I had to give the poem a bit of a twist or to make it more nuanced or interesting.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsIn this case, I decided to take some extracts from a contemporary forum of people discussing the miniskirt. And in contrast to the Wikipedia piece, it was full of judgmental attitudes-- people talking about women in short skirts seducing or tempting men. So I decided to set some of those extracts against the ones I'd got from the first piece to see what that juxtaposition created. As I started to arrange the different texts on the page and look at them together, I noticed that there were certain sounds that chimed between the two extracts. So I started arranging them with rhyme in mind, seeing if I could bring out the rhyme in the piece.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 secondsTo do that, I had to condense some of the phrases from the online forum quite a bit. Or in some cases, even edit them. I guess you could argue that that's problematic because they weren't my own words. But the comments had been presented anonymously in a public forum. So I'd argue that I was just trying to create a kind of chorus effect. I also wanted to show that the 1920s article was about women's clothing and liberation, whereas the modern forum was all about restriction and judgement. So perhaps, even though we've moved forward in time, maybe attitudes have moved backwards. So the poem acquired a kind of political urgency for me then.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 secondsAnd I went back and started to edit it with that in mind.

Found poem

Helen’s poem ‘Skirt’ started life when she was reading a Wikipedia article about 1920s Western fashion, not particularly ‘searching’ for a poem at all. In the next activity, we will be asking you to write a such found poem.

A found poem is a poem made of words taken from somewhere else: billboards, snippets of conversations, shopping receipts, diaries, adverts and more. A wonderful example for instance is the poem ‘a woman goes’ by Brazilian poet Angélica Freitas.[1] Here she creates a poem by typing partial phrases such as ‘a woman goes’ into Google. Google then completes the phrase automatically, which Freitas then lists: ‘a woman goes to the movies | a woman goes to get ready’. To read the full poem use the link (below).

In the video, Helen describes how she wrote the found poem ‘Skirt’. When you heard and saw the video, what did you think the found elements are? And where did she find them? Share your thoughts with the other learners.

Skirt

For the first time in centuries women’s legs were seen with hemlines rising to the knee.

They are too short it makes men want to go up their skirts I am 60 years old do you agree?

Knife-pleated skirts low-waisted dresses, letting women quite literally kick up their heels.

I too am past it and still want to go up women’s skirts I know how that feels

Proper attire for women was enforced for morning, afternoon activities, adorned with sashes, artificial flowers at the waist.

I know we enjoy it however it ruins our summer and I am tired, you can’t look at their face

A more masculine look including flattened breasts and hips short hairstyles like the Marcel Wave, the Eton Crop.

I don’t go out of my way to stare down her top, it’s just we get out of focus and then we fail our exam

Marcel Gateau. Francois Marcel. Given the dates, it’s quite possible they were all the same man.

Additional video

Helen reciting Skirt

References

[1] A woman goes by Angélica Freitas [Internet]. Mptmagazine.com. 2018 [cited 29 March 2018]. Available from: http://www.mptmagazine.com/poem/a-woman-goes-683/

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How To Make A Poem

Manchester Metropolitan University

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