Horror Writers Association

In March: “Found Poetry” with Terrie Leigh Relf & HWA Poetry Showcase Announcement


Poet Terrie Leigh Relf talks about “Found Poetry” and shares a little bit of herself and her own work this month. Personally, before reading this article, I’d never heard of “Found Poetry” and it’s a fascinating literary field. Special thanks to Terrie for pulling back the curtain a little on a lesser known form of poetry.

What Is Found Poetry and Where-Oh-Where Can It Be?
by Terrie Leigh Relf

While on staff at Alban Lake Publishing, one of our regular contributors and a writer friend, Lauren McBride, asked me about found poetry. When she requested an article on this poetic form, I thought it sounded like a great idea. She offered the following poem, with comments, as an example.


☄  ☄

Space Attack

Above many of Earth’s cities,
the assault from space
appeared to originate
from the constellation
of Perseus—

millions of small projectiles
hurtling toward Earth
at over 200,000 kilometers per hour.
People gathered,
gazed helplessly toward the sky
unable to stop the onslaughts.

Earth’s defense,
a planet-wide blanket of air,
obliterated the attacking projectiles
by friction (generated by their own speed)
to heat them into disintegration.

—Lauren McBride © 2013

So, where is the found aspect? According to McBride, “This found poem was created by deleting text from an article until only the poem remained. The words appear in their original order. Changes were made exclusively to spacing, punctuation, and capitalization. The title is also taken from the article, ‘Meteors Over Quebec’ by Rémi Boucher.”

McBride said she deleted “the text until only the poem remained,” which is a technique referred to as the cut-up method—or erasure—used by Surrealists and Dadaists, that continues to prevail. While her motives for engaging the text may not resonate with the Surrealist or Dadaist philosophy per se, it is a found poem in my humble opinion. A dedicated explorer, McBride discovered the poem by sifting through words and lines, testing their order, thus making connections and meaning.

I would also call this The Michelangelo Method. My mother, who was a painter and sculptor, would often say, “When someone told Michelangelo he was a great sculptor, he would respond, ‘I just took away the parts that did not need to be there.’”

Another observation McBride made that resonates with me is this: “It seems that found poems have more than one way of being written, including mixing up the words as in a collage.” Collage is an excellent method to use when you are inspired by an article, book or other type of auditory or visual text. You can use it to step outside your comfort zone, or when you “just” want to play.

Guidelines abound on the web and in libraries, but here is a short version:

  1. Cut random lines out of one of your short stories or novels or an article in a newspaper or magazine;
  2. Rearrange them without looking or arrange them thoughtfully;
  3. Paste, tape or glue together; and
  4. Voila! You have a found poem. 

Another method would be to use a popular Dadaist technique where you take an existing text (or page) and draw black lines (felt pens are popular) through words and sentences until the poem is revealed on the page. I have also seen poets/writers use other media such as crayons, paint, electrical tape, paper, and snippets of words and phrases to cover the existing text until the poem is revealed. Yet another method would be to copy and paste a text onto your computer and to then delete and rearrange. Have fun with the page, too, in terms of positive and negative space.

When I raised the issue of found poetry on the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s list serve, F.J. Bergmann, the current editor of Star*line, offered the following comments: “Found poetry comes in two flavors. Traditionally, a found poem is material rendered verbatim that is transformed by virtue of being considered as a poem outside its original context. Annie Dillard has an entire book of these, titled Mornings Like This: Found Poems.”

“The Found Poetry Review, however,” Bergmann continues, “publishes the other kind—cut-up or erasure poems, where only certain phrases or words are lifted from another text. Here, the idea is to be transformative. Last year they did a Pulitzer Remix project, where poets signed up to do 30 poems—a poem a day during April—using a specific Pulitzer-winning novel as a source.”

When the issue of attribution was raised, Bergmann said…

I think that using one line from another poet, unattributed, is legitimate, but ideally in a completely different context and where recognition, at least by the knowledgeable, is expected. “Borrowing” lines to place in a similar poem is plagiarism. So is imitating another’s poem when writing on the same subject. Parody, on the other hand, is one of my favorite things.

As discussions of this nature will do, it morphed into an exchange on centos, which I often connect with found poetry. Ruth Berman, who is a past Rhysling and Dwarf Stars award winner, said…

On the cento issue, I think in some cases part of the purpose of doing it is to give readers a “see how many of these you recognize” quiz, so that you want a mention somewhere (sub-title or footnote, probably) that it IS a cento, but don’t want to identify the individual sources. I’ve only twice done “found poems,” and neither was found in a poem. One was a quotation from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, and one was a list of wildflowers currently in bloom posted one day at the entrance to a wildflower garden by one of the docents.

Here is that poem:

A Few Remarks on the Hybernation of Animals
A Found Poem: Charles Darwin

We thought nature had granted scarcely
A living creature to this sandy and dry country.
By digging, however, in the ground,
Several insects, large spiders, and lizards were found
In a half-torpid state.
Ruth Berman, ©1991

Bergmann added, “The cento has a long tradition, and is a recognized form. Given that the whole point is to use lines from other works, it is obvious and expected that the lines are not original, and half the fun for the reader is identifying the source, when not given.”

Bergmann’s “Cento Canto” is available at: Cento Canto, along with a link for weirddeermedia.com where you can hear her perform it!

I also think the list poem is a close relative to the found poem, a tentacle that flails about to test the air (or soil or flesh) for danger, nutrients or potential mates. We can observe our surroundings, list what we see/hear/taste/touch/feel/emote. It is a discovery process and that, I believe, is one of the integral aspects of found poetry: One needs to recognize there is a poem in an article, an ad, a book, a menu, a weather report—or an overheard conversation…We see the poem shimmering between characters and words, lines and sidebars, and yes, glaring at us in full view.

Since this article is for the Horror Writers Association poetry page, it is only fitting that I include a horror poem of sorts that I “found” on my book shelf. How did I find it? First, I typed out 15 book and genre publication titles; second, I read and reread the titles, looking for patterns and connections; third, I removed words; fourth, I used my poetic license to omit, repeat and/or rearrange; and fifth, when I realized I needed more raw material, I used additional book or zine titles.

Cleopatra’s Memories

Tales of the unanticipated…
eye of the storm at summer’s end
blood journey to outposts of beyond
Oh wondrous worlds within worlds
where half-broke horses breach the mist
earth, elemental hunger, thirst
The hidden way across the threshold…

le morte!
le morte!
le morte!

—Terrie Leigh Relf, ©2014

Finding poetry everywhere we go is part of being a poet, isn’t it? We’re at the beach with a metal detector searching for what others have lost or abandoned. We dig into damp sand and tangled beds of pungent seaweed, brush aside bottle caps and a decomposed lobster claw or two. We just KNOW the poem is in there and that it has value.

In closing, John C. Mannone, Silver Blade’s poetry editor, is planning to have a special issue of found poetry later this year or in the early part of 2015. Be sure to visit silverblade.net regularly for updates.

Works Cited

—Bergmann, F.J. Personal Interview
—Berman, Ruth. Personal Interview. 7 February, 2014.
—“A Few Remarks on the Hybernation of Animals a found poem: Charles Darwin.” Time Frames. Ed. Terry A. Garey. Minneapolis:
Rune Press, 1991. Print.
—Boucher, Rémi. “Meteors Over Quebec.” Astronomy Picture of the Day. apod.nasa.gov. N.p., 16 Aug. 2010. Web.

And now, a brief interview with Terrie:

—HWA Poetry Page:
What did you want to be when you grew up?  Are you there yet?
—Terrie Leigh Relf:
LOL! I wanted to be an artist, a musician, and a writer. There were a few moments in there when I wanted to be a psychiatrist or a temple acolyte. Am I there yet? I remember asking that question all the time when my parents piled all us kids in the car for a trip. What was it Buckaroo Bonzai said? “No matter where you go, there you are.” So, I would say that I’m still on the path. There are always something to explore, to learn, to experiment with. It’s a good journey.
—HWA Poetry Page:
If you could talk to the 15-year-old Terrie for five minutes, what would you tell yourself?
—Terrie Leigh Relf:
Excellent question. Hmmm…I would tell her to believe in and trust herself – no matter what people said. That her sense of humor would be more appreciated when she was older. How many more minutes do I have? Let’s see. I would tell her to pay better attention in physics, as she was going to need it to write science fiction. I would tell her that her love for English and literature classes was going to extend throughout her life, that that darn reading habit was a good thing, and that dreams do come true, as she’d be an active member in the Horror Writers Association. I would tell her not to hide all her writing in those notebooks and not to throw all those notebooks out when she turned 18. I would tell her to focus on ALL OF HER CLASSES, not just the AP ones. I would tell her—do I still have a few more minutes? Oh, and all those voices she hears? Keep listening…Fortunately, I did…
—HWA Poetry Page:
What advice would you give to an aspiring poet?
—Terrie Leigh Relf:
Here are a few words of advice in non-hierarchical order…

  • Write at least one poem per day;
  • Read and/or study poetry every day;
  • Study a variety of poetic forms and then practice them;
  • Experiment and take risks;
  • Find a mentor or a writing coach;
  • Study markets and submit something every week – or better yet, every day;
  • Read everything you can get your hands on and learn something new every day;
  • Anything can give rise to a poem;
  • Create a shrine to the Muse and make offerings;
  • Leave no poetic form unturned;
  • Write topics, random words, and phrases on pieces of paper then put in a bag to draw from later;
  • Ask, and give thanks for, constructive criticism;
  • Join a writing group, take a class, repeat as necessary;
  • Every rejection letter brings you closer to acceptance;
  • Don’t give up after the first rejection;
  • Attend readings, open mics, etc.;
  • Create an efficient system for tracking your work;
  • Follow submission guidelines and be polite and respectful to the editors;
  • Listen to the voice—or voices—in your head;
  • Create a running bibliography of your work; and
  • Send that internal editor on a holiday. Someplace warm, like Florida. Or maybe an island in the pacific. That should keep them from kvetching non-stop in your ear…

—HWA Poetry Page:
What is your least favorite word?
—Terrie Leigh Relf:
No. (Unless I’m saying it…) Then again, there have been times when someone else said “no” to me and it was a good thing…
—HWA Poetry Page:
Besides being a poet, you’re also an editor. With The Poet’s Workshop—and Beyond, you’re also helping others to write poetry. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten on writing poetry?
—Terrie Leigh Relf:
The Poet’s Workshop—and Beyond is overflowing with advice I received from others—and not only about writing. I’ve been an editor with the genre press et al for about 20 years now, and have taken a hiatus from that, with the exception of Alban Lake Publishing’s drabble contest, to focus on my own writing and developing my life and writing coach business. Just write…and keep writing. Seriously, that’s it! Then again, all of my recommendations for aspiring poets arose from advice I received over the years. I was blessed to be born into a family who read and appreciated poetry. My grandmother, for example, would read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Gibran’s collected works, and Elliot’s collected works to me, and we would study them together. Then, my entire family culture was steeped in Dr. Seuss and other fun and quirky writers.

Finally, some poetry by Terrie Leigh Relf…


After Hours at a Local Blood Bank

The first phlebotomist couldn’t seem
to find a good vein, but she didn’t stop
trying, sent in another, chainsaws
dangling from her ears, purple-lacquered nails
tapping syncopated rhythms along the length of
the length of your arm, listening for blood pounding,
blood pooling, a cacophony of sonorous sweet.

Vampires come and go
speak of blood the color of jello
cherry jello
coagulating in the centrifuge

“There’s never enough O+,”
the Phlebotomist’s Choir sings
giving each donor’s bag
an ecstatic squeeze,
a sing-song litany of blood

tie off the tube
insert a new one
sheen of metal
beneath a cold blue moon
tie off the tube
insert another
there’s still more blood
left in this one


The communiqué read

“You have been chosen…”
and you sigh with relief,
but not without sadness,
with thoughts of those
you’ve left behind.

And what are lightyears, you think,
when traveling ever forward?
as memories shift into focus
on the raised shields of the forward ports:

The maddening flash
of red alert sirens followed by
the cloying taste of decay
amid the cacophony of
bones gone brittle…

And then your face appears
darkness recedes, cringes…
Have you grown so old—
or is it that you’ve failed to age?

You shrug away these thoughts
hit rewind again and again,
murmuring prayers to dead
or dying gods as you were
one among thousands
selected for the change.

The doctors will soon return
with assurances that
each and every painful augmentation
will be forgotten “Just like childbirth!”

The irony of your absent womb all too present
as you prepare for death, then resurrection,
an ill-defined, unscripted future.

But now, as you near that furthest outpost,
re-awakened by those who’ve gone before,
you stretch limbs enhanced with nanobotics,
behold new worlds unraveling within cybernetic eyes.

But it is not that wondrous vista
that invoke childlike sighs—even wonder—
but the realization of fears unfounded…

as countless hours of dreams and lucid journeys
are on pause and awaiting your signal
ready for download.


Beware that razored edge of sleep
where nightmares burrow
like sluggish wyrms…
as there will be a reckoning
when the Elder Gods arise!


Parking Angels
(Still for Susan…)

I was waiting on the sidewalk
as you drove by in your old Mercedes,
still in need of a good wash, but your smile
made up for that as you careened
in-and-out of rush-hour traffic in search of
a parking spot near my place.

You laughed, waved, then shrugged,
tilting your head toward the right as if to say:
“I’ll go around the block again.”

So I waited…

Remember that day before oncology called,
before the plans for your son’s bar mitzvah,
the news of your daughter’s pregnancy,
the miracle of my own?

It was before the morphine drip
held your hand in place
and you couldn’t even swallow
tepid orange soda or
read the gathering piles of magazines
your other friends had brought…

I remember that day, too—
when you cried out to the parking angels
to find you a spot…

They must have been listening after all.


☠  ☠  ☠

Submissions to the HWA Horror Poetry Showcase are now closed. Please view the selected poets on May’s post.

HWA Horror Poetry Showcase

To celebrate National Poetry Month, the Horror Writers Association will be holding their inaugural HWA Horror Poetry Showcase in April 2014.

Open to all poets, the Showcase will be accepting submissions throughout the month of April with four poems chosen by HWA member judges to be honored on the HWA website.

For the 2014 Showcase the judges will be Marge Simon, Peter Adam Salomon, and Jonathan Maberry.

Submissions will be accepted via Submittable from April 1-30, 2014 and all rights will remain with the poets.

In addition, at the judge’s discretion, an electronic chapbook of qualifying poems will be considered for publication under the aegis of HWA. Each poem chosen for publication will be paid $5.


About the Judges:

Marge Simon is a past president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of Star*Line. She won the Best Long Poem Rhysling (1995), the Bram Stoker Award for Superior achievement in poetry (2008, 2012), the Strange Horizons Readers Award (2010), and the SFPA Dwarf Stars Award for short poetry (2012). Her flash fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Vestal Review, and more: www.margesimon.com.

Peter Adam Salomon is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Horror Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers, and The Authors Guild and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, was published in September 2012. His next novel, ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS, a ghost story set in Savannah, GA, is scheduled for publication in Fall 2014.

His short fiction has appeared in Demonic Visions I and II and he was the featured author for Gothic Blue Book III: The Graveyard Edition. His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop in December 2013.

He was also a Judge for the 2006 Savannah Children’s Book Festival Young Writer’s Contest, served on the Jury for the Poetry Category of the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards, and is the current Poetry Page Editor for HWA.org. www.peteradamsalomon.com.

Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, four-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, and the Watch Over Me series.

He also writes the monthly comics V-WARS and ROT & RUIN, and has written extensively for Marvel Comics and Dark Horse. Two of his novels (Rot & Ruin and Dead of Night) are in development for film, and another (V-Wars) has been optioned for TV.

He teaches Experimental Writing for Teens, is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan spent twenty-five years as a magazine feature writer, martial arts instructor and playwright. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo. www.jonathanmaberry.com.

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