I am participating in National Poetry Writing Month, where the goal is to write one poem a day for 30 days. During the month of April, I will be using the writing prompts at ReadWritePoem.org and posting the results.
Day ten prompt (thrift store)
My sister loves to comb thrift stores looking for just the right object. She never knows what that object will be until she finds it. Sometimes she takes a photograph, and other times she buys said object and hangs it on the wall of her home, or she paints it and turns it in to something else.
The same can be done with text you come across in your reading. The challenge today is to find a passage of text, preferably from an out-of-print book, and turn it into a poem. This process is appropriately called a found poem. The Academy of American Poets has a great article about the history of the found poem, with links to examples by TS Eliot and Charles Reznikoff.
The basic strategy is to find a passage of prose, keep it exactly like you find it, but change the line breaks strategically to call emphasis to the aspects of the passage you find poetic.
One place to find these passages is on Google Books. You can search for a topic that interests you, and then you will see the words highlighted in yellow in the different pdf versions Google Books has available. Just make sure you write a note at the end of your poem crediting your source. Sharing where you found the idea for the poem is part of what makes the found poem unique.
The Weaving Contest
(a found poem)
Minerva could find no fault
with the work, not even Envy herself could. Angered
by Arachne's success, the golden-haired
goddess tore up the embroidered
tapestry with its stories of the gods'
shameful deeds. With the boxwood shuttle
she beat Arachne's face
repeatedly. In grief Arachne
strangled herself, stopping
the passage of life with a noose. Minerva
pitied her as she was
hanging and raised her
up with these words: Stubborn girl, live,
yet hang! And to make you anxious
for the future may the same punishment
be decreed for all
With these words
Minerva sprinkled her with the juice
of a magic herb. As the fateful liquid
touched her, Arachne's hair
dropped off; her nose and ears
vanished, and her head
was shrunken; her whole body was
contracted. From her side
thin fingers dangled for legs, and the rest
became her belly.
Yet still from this
she lets the thread
issue forth and,
a spider now, practices
her former weaving art.
I took this from Classic Mythology (3rd Edition), edited by Mark P.O. Morford and Robert J. Lenardon. It was a textbook from a humanities class in college and now a much-beloved part of my book collection, kept on the shelf next to poetry collections, books of names, and books on writing, music and art. I broke the lines in order to draw attention to the parts of the passage that I feel are most important, as well as paying attention to the music of the language. Read it aloud to see what I mean.
Classical tales need little embellishment.