Friday, June 20, 2008


The found poem is a delightful subset of the poetic art. Poets wake up every morning hungry for images. They scour nature programs, read newspapers, comb their pets, anything to tease out some reminiscence, or to enable themselves to describe the sometimes human-like behavior of a centipede in its inexorable march towards a leaf. We are an anthropomorphic lot, blessed (or cursed) with a fertile imagination but unwilling to engage in countless hours of patient study of an amoeba under a microscope. We are not scientists. Yet, we cite Freud at every pause—“that the poets always knew’—meaning the Greeks, who gave us Oedipus and Cassandra and the battle for Troy where gods and men worked together and at cross purposes.

I have gone far afield just to say that each time we write we need to trammel this exceeding imagination, this bountiful garden gone to seed. Why blinker the beast, make it follow our will? Therein lies the rub, the eternal and unanswerable question that rises in conversation between the wild horse and its domesticated brother or sister. The found poem offers a detour from this debate, a chance to find wonder in the odd fish served in reality’s basket. English and Canadian poet Chris Levenson produced a fine example of the found poem in “Prague, 1987,” one of the precise, lyric beauties of his 1990 collection HALF TRUTHS.

PRAGUE, 1987

Now for the first time I see them
in daylight, the statues on the Charles Bridge—
abolished ikons persisting—the Hradcin castle
blurred by scaffolding and rain, the narrow
stairways between old, half-derelict hostelries,
and they are grey: it is not time alone
that wears down the roofs, files away
at the wrought-iron bars of palace gates, and chokes
with cobwebs and dead leaves the once bright fountains.
A dead swan drifts upon the Vltava.

We walk through drizzle to the Maltese Church,
among the baroque impedimenta hear
a string quarter play Haydn, Mozart, Ravel
with, outside, thunder continuo.
in the heart of the Old Town, “Lennon lives”
on several walls, posters announce U2 and The Police;
I ask the hotel receptionist where Kafka’s house is
and I am handed a telephone book: “You look him up,” he says,
“There are over three hundred Kafkas in Prague.”

-- Chris Levenson, from Half Truths, Wolsak & Wynn, 1990

Oh to be the 301st Kafka in Prague or anywhere and receive a call from the poet hungry for an image. My mere presence is enough. I just need to be found. Under K.


Jack Point said...

Nice poem.

Indran Amirthanayagam said...

glad you like the poem. Send me your blog address and I will put a link to it in mine. I like what I see in Court Jester. cheers. Indran

Brian Campbell said...

Great ending. I would agree with CL in your friendly exchange: this may be an assemblage of detail, but not a found poem per se.

Is that string quartet?

Indran Amirthanayagam said...

Yes, Brian, as far as I can see from the published text of the poem...string quartet.

about definitions, we should always keep taking them out to the street to give them a good dusting. A respectful dusting! cheers. Indran

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