Skip to content ↓

August 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Finding Poems

Alan Maley is well-known as a trainer and materials writer.  He has been involved in ELT for 55 years.  Now in retirement, he continues to write and give presentations and workshops.  His main areas of interest are in innovative methodology, spontaneity in teaching and in literature and creative writing. Email:


How do you find poems?

One way into writing poetry is not to try to write it at all but to look for poems hidden inside existing texts.  One of the first poets to introduce the idea of ‘Found Poems’ was John Daniel.  Here is a poem of his which says it all:


Found Poem  (extract)  John Daniel

I found a poem.


I will tell you how I found it

I was walking along the beach

when I saw a stone with a bump

I brought it home and stood it on the mantelpiece

where it immediately turned into

a Work of Art.  


If I can find a Work of Art on the beach I thought

I can find poems on fire extinguishers, in recipe books,

insurance policies, telephone directories,

the index to The Oxford Book of English Verse,

my grandfather's diary.  


I read out the Smiths, A - J,

from the London telephone directory

and was attacked by a lady in the Lamb and Flag

screaming This isn't poetry!


In:  Missing the Boat  Etruscan Books 2007 p . 10


So Found Poems are a way of re-framing existing texts.  We extract from a text written for one purpose and re-present it as a poem.

Here is an example from a text by Leonard Cohen, which, when reformatted becomes a perfect haiku:


Forget perfection.

There’s a crack in everything –

that’s how light gets in.

                                        Leonard Cohen


Some examples

As John Daniel points out in his poem above, we can look for poems in all manner of texts. 

  1. Here is one based on the index of first lines in a poetry anthology:


Found in index to Oxford Book of English Verse.  John Daniel

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back

Love guards the roses of thy lips

Love in fantastic triumph sate

Love in my bosom like a bee

Love is a sickness full of woes

Love is and was my Lord and King

Love is enough; though the World be a-waning

Love is the blossom where there blows

Love not me for comely grace

Love, thou art absolute; sole Lord

Love, wing'd my Hopes and taught me how to fly

Lully, lulley; lully, lulley 


In:   Poetry Introduction 1   Faber and Faber  1969 p. 38


2. Here is another example, based on an ad for PA Consultancies which I found on a train.  I simply added a number of nouns ending in ‘-ality’                                                 



(Graphic -Silhouette of a man)        -ality

 Consulting with quality?

Consulting with reality?

Consulting with morality?

Consulting with singularity? Or plurality?

Or mortality?  Or fatality?

Or sensuality?  Or sentimentality?

Or just plain old banality?


3. Here is one more example, taking a well-known text from Shakespeare and mining it for a few haikus. In this case, small changes have been made so that the syllable count of the haikus (5-7-5) can be preserved. (eg. ‘Our revels now are ended’ becomes ‘our revels now end’.)


PROSPERO   (The Tempest. Act IV, Scene 1)

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.


our revels now end

and are melted into air –

rounded with a sleep.

                                         (The Tempest.  Act IV , scene 1)


this baseless fabric

leaving not a rack behind –

rounded with a sleep

                                           (The Tempest, same)


as I foretold you

our actors were all spirits

melted into air

                                             (The Tempest, same)


rounded with a sleep

our revels now are spirits

dissolved into dreams

                                          (The Tempest.  Same)

4. Here is one based on a walk around my local city of Canterbury one morning during lockdown (based on a suggestion by Jane Spiro)


The New Normal.  Alan Maley

Angela’s Florists – closed

Fitzgerald Jewellers – closed

Kennedy’s Footwear – closed

London School of English – closed

Stephen James Hairdressers – closed

Public Library – closed

Town Museum – closed

Games Workshop Ltd. – closed

Oxfam bookshop – closed

Pinocchio’s Italian restaurant – closed

Rymans stationers - closed

Sandwich bar – open for take-aways only

Post Office – max. 2 persons at a time. Please queue outside

Sturry Pharmacy – max. 2 persons at a time.  Please queue outside

Debenhams department store – closed down.  Leasehold available

Funeral Directors – Day and night service


Other possible sources

Here are some more suggestions of fertile sources for Found Poems

~ Letters (both personal and official);

~ Forms and other legal documents;

~ Shopping lists;

~ The Yellow Pages or classified pages of the telephone directory (good for extracting particular names for businesses, like hairdressers):

~ The names of stations on the London Underground or any other railway line (Flanders and Swan wrote a song once using the names of stations closed down by the government in UK – available as The Slow Train on YouTube.);

~ The names of the planets in the solar system (and the constellations);

~ The names of pubs and restaurants;

~ Newspaper headlines;

~ Proverbs;

~ Extracts from novels and short stories.


Found Poems in class?

I would suggest that working on Found Poems with learners has a number of advantages:

~ It exposes them to a wide variety of texts.

~ It requires them to pay close attention to what they read because they have a focus in seeking out possible Found Poems.

~ In some ways, it makes the writing of poetry less daunting.  The raw material is already there – they have only to select and re-shape it.

~ It offers multiple points for discussion and debate.

~ Much of the source material is readily accessible on line, so projects can be done outside class hours – which is particularly relevant during lockdown.


How to get started?

Start with a relatively simple activity.  For example, hand out a prose text you have selected for its rich imagery.  Their task is to write it out as a poem.

Here is an example:

Akhila has often dreamt of this.  Of being part of such a wave that pours into compartments and settles on seats, stowing baggage and clutching tickets.  Of sitting with her back to her world, with her eyes looking ahead.  Of leaving.  Of running away.  Of pulling out.  Of a train that trundles and troops into a station.  Akhila is seated by a window.  Everything but the train is still.  The moon hangs at her shoulder and rides with her.  She travels through a gallery of nightscapes, each framed by a window.  A family huddled around a fire.  A howling dog.  A distant town.  Black oily waters of a river.  A menacing hill.  A curling road.  A railway crossing with the streetlight glinting on the glasses of a man on a static scooter, hands dangling at his side, heel on the ground, head cocked, watching, waiting for the train to hurtle past.

At the station, portraits replace impressions.  Reunions.  Farewells.  A smile.  Tears.  Anger.  Irritation.  Anxiety.  Boredom.  Stillness.  Akhila sees them all.  The train begins to move.

                                                         Anita Nair.  Ladies’ Coupe. (Vintage Books 2001. pp 1-2)

Essentially, the task is to decide where the line breaks should come.  Here are two possible ways of starting.



has often

dreamt of this.

Of being


of such a wave …


Akhila has often dreamt

of this.

Of being part

of such a wave …


Clearly there will be many different versions which can be discussed as learners compare their texts. Once they are used to the idea of manipulating texts in this way, you can vary the tasks.  For example:

~ They use the text as a mine.  They first choose 8 words or fragments of the text which they find especially striking.  They then put the original text to one side and use the fragments to write a short poem, adding words as necessary.

~ They look for haikus hidden in the text.

~ They search for a new text which can be used in the same ways.

You can then move on to using other sources of Found Poems as suggested above : newspaper headlines, letters, etc.

Let me end with another Found Poem, taken from a novel:


Found Poem: Pre-emptive Strike.  (from Sebastian Faulks, Human Traces. pp 596)

The truth is

that we know very little

about this illness.

We know very little

about anything,

as a matter of fact.

Never mind.

It is really not important.

It is just that one day

I may no longer know your name,

and I ask you to forgive me

if I pass you in the street

or on the stairs

and my face does not light up

with love

or recognition.


Please forgive me.

I shall no longer be myself.

I am going into a dark country

and I very much wanted

to say goodbye

to those that I have loved

before I go.


Good luck with finding many more poems yourselves!  They are all around you.  All you have to do is identify them.


Please check the Pilgrims f2f courses at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Pilgrims online courses at Pilgrims website

Tagged  Creativity Group