Last night, I drove to Beyond Baroque, a literary mecca in Venice, to see Ara Shirinyan speak. Ara teaches with me at Mt. SAC, and he writes poetry. Lately, he has been writing found poems almost exclusively.
Found poets are people who find their poetry in other people’s writing. They find a phrase or even paragraph and turn it into poetic form as a way to observe the world. It sounds like a short cut to writing – possibly even plagiarism, but it’s not.
What I’ve always admired about found poets is their ability to see. They go around with their eyes open, able to capture the humor or irony in the way that people describe themselves or others. Where I see only a sign or a casual observation, Ara sees something tragic or funny or just strange about humanity.
Anyway, last night Ara read from his collection, Your Country is Great: Afghanistan –Guyana. For this project, he used google, typing in the name of a country followed by “is great.” What he came up with were moments of tragic nationalism, touching sentimentality, patriotism, and strange ego-boasting. Each poem was, of course, its own, but what emerged over the course of the reading was the similar ways that we describe the places where we live. I heard myself, the way that I describe my love for my country, in the voice of Egypt’s or Afghanistan’s board of tourism.
I’ve never written a found poem myself, and I don’t know if I will. It’s hard to find something interesting that someone else has said, and it’s too easy just to be mean without making a larger point. However, Ara does this really well, and I’m going to follow him and his observations in any book he writes.