Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Making use of what’s around you

In which the learners consider the wider 'where' of where they write: your street, town, city, country, environment, online or offline.

In the previous step, Helen introduced one of her found poems. A found poem is a poem made out of words the poet uncovered somewhere else. Found poems can be made out of shopping lists, place names, diary entries, etc. Over the next few steps, we will be writing our own found poems. In this step, we will be using our immediate environment to gather the materials we need. To help us, we will be taking advice from the French writer and member of experimental writing group OuLiPo, Georges Perec (1936-1982). Here is an exercise Perec describes in his essay ‘The Street’:

Observe the street, from time to time, with some concern for system perhaps.
Apply yourself. Take your Time.
Note down the place: the terrace of a cafe near the junction of the Rue de Bac and the Boulevard
Saint Germain
the time: seven o’ clock in the evening
the date: 15 May 1973
the weather: set fair
Note down what you can see. Anything worthy of note going on. Do you know how to see what’s worthy of note? Is there anything that strikes you?
Nothing strikes you. You don’t know how to see.

You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless.[1]

Perec describes a simple street. He writes down apparently insignificant details: the street name, the time, the weather. Perec then asks you, the reader, if you see ‘anything worthy of note going on’. He is suggesting that the problem is not that there is nothing happening on this ordinary street, but that we have forgotten how to see the ordinary.

Perec gives clear instructions for us to follow so that we can learn how to ‘see’ again. (We might expand this term to include the other senses: hearing, smelling, touching, tasting.) He writes: ‘You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless.’

Let’s try something similar then. Let’s take Perec’s advice and do this ‘slowly, almost stupidly’. Don’t let anything escape your attention. Choose a place. It doesn’t have to be a street, but a place you are familiar with. It might be where you live or work. Now try to find in that place traces of language, the kind of stuff you normally ignore: adverts, timetables, machinery labels, registration numbers, street names, numbers, overheard conversations…etc. You might set aside ten minutes to do this, or do it on your way to work.


[1] Perec G. Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. London: Penguin Classics; 2008.

This article is from the free online

How To Make A Poem

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education