Found poetry is a conglomeration of different variations of using previously written texts in order to construct a new free standing poem. Writing found poetry can be as difficult or as simple as one wishes to make it. For the purposes of teaching middle school students how to write found poetry, it is imperative to keep the process simple. Simplicity in the construction of their found poetry will bring the students joy and encourage them to continue writing, even expanding into different forms and free verse. Students will make the task more difficult for themselves over time, as they grow in a deeper understanding of poetry. Love of poetry comes naturally to many, but it can also be taught through compassionate and encouraging example.
Here I will be providing ideas on how to teach middle school students to write three different types of found poetry: the cento, erasure poems and cut-up poems.
How to Write a Found Poem: Cento
A cento poem consists of full lines drawn from various texts. The lines may come from the works of one particular poet, or several.
Before your students arrive, set out numerous books of poetry by different authors. Let your students choose which books they would like to use in developing their cento.
I recommend leaving the majority of class time open so that your middle school students can peruse the books of poetry, copy lines that strike them and them work those lines together into a poem of their own. Some of your middle schoolers may even construct more than one poem during the class period. If there is extra time at the end of the hour, you will want to have some of your students read their centos to the class.
Here is an example of a cento that I wrote from lines of various Emily Dickinson poems:
A deeper twilight on the dawn
Would overflow with pearl,
Blazing in gold and quenching in purple
In every human soul.
How to Write a Found Poem: Erasure Poem
An erasure poem is formed by marking out text from a published work (prose or poetry) with a black Sharpie or white-out.
Provide your students with print outs of various long poems and pages from literary fiction. Instruct them to “erase” all of the text that is not part of their poem. The words that remain on the page make up the new poem created by the student.
Clink on this link for a website that provides texts with which your students may erase words just by clicking on them. Sources change, but include such as Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Clouds by Aristophanes. Your students can then upload their erasure poems to site, if they so desire.
How to Write a Found Poem: Cut-Ups
A cut-up poem is a poem put together by arranging snippets of verse or prose that have been cut from a previously published work.
When your students arrive, set in front of each of them snippets of text from something like The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe or a chapter from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Make some of the cut outs just a single word and some a few words from one line. Have your middle school students spend the hour constructing one or more found poems from the cut-ups. At the end of class, have those who wish to share, read their poems to the rest of the class.
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