What Is Found Poetry?

Alicia Sparks

Found poetry is a type of poetry made up of other existing written or spoken materials. Since these materials already exist, it is thought that the poet “found” the poem within them. To create or “find” this kind of poetry, a poet might take words and phrases from another piece of work, or he might rearrange the entire contents of a piece of work. Similar to other kinds of poetry, found poems can be written in a variety of styles. Found poetry should not be confused with parallel poetry, a type of poetry that relies on the poet writing a completely new poem in the style of another poem or poet.

Literature teachers sometimes assign students to write poetry based on their favorite short story or a chapter in a book.
Literature teachers sometimes assign students to write poetry based on their favorite short story or a chapter in a book.

Generally, there are no rules regarding the structure of a found poem. Found poetry might be in the style of an epic or ballad, or it might follow the haiku or limerick poetry formats. Some poets might prefer rhyming verse poems, and others might write blank verse poems. The styles of sonnets, odes, and narrative poems can all be represented with found poetry. As long as the existing materials allow for it, a found poet can create any style of poem he wants, and some poets might even welcome the challenge of using the existing materials to create a certain style of poetry.

Found poetry is made up of other existing spoken or written materials.
Found poetry is made up of other existing spoken or written materials.

Poets might “find” poetry anywhere. Some poets have found poetry in passages of books, public figures’ speeches, and even in normal pieces of communication such as letters. Sometimes, literature and language teachers will create assignments for students to write a piece of found poetry based on their favorite short story or chapter in a book. Writers might practice this exercise themselves, to flex their creative muscles or simply just for fun.

Due to the echoing nature of found poetry, it is often confused with or taught alongside parallel poetry. It is important to understand that although these two kinds of poetry draw from other resources, they are not the same. When a poet writes a parallel poem, he chooses another poem or another poet’s style, and models his own poem after that. When he writes a found poem, however, he takes materials that have already been written or spoken and rearranges them in some structural way to create a poem where one seemingly did not already exist. In other words, the writer of a parallel poem writes the poem from scratch, whereas the writer of a found poem looked at other materials and “found” the poem.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - Poetry in general can be lazy or it can be the product of care and craft. There are amazing examples of found poems out there, but they tend to be fairly uncommon. I think this is more because most poets prefer to write from scratch, rather than because found poetry is essentially a less satisfying medium.


@clintflint - Found poetry can be good, but more often it just seems lazy to me. I don't think it's particularly clever to take a block of text and just pick out individual words that will make up a sentence. In a big enough or rich enough text this isn't exactly difficult.

Good poems are spontaneous as well as considered and I don't think that found poems are usually either of those things. They are a fun exercise, but ultimately nothing more.


Found poetry can be very good. I especially like the ones where the original text is still present, but has been marked over or otherwise obscured so that only the poem is still present.

In a way, I feel like all poems are found poems. You have a set of words and phrases that you're working with and you're trying to make sense of them and put them together into something that has meaning.

The added dimension of the found poem is the context of the original writing. If the poem is particularly good it will play with that context while adding something new.

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