Found Poems by Bern Porter
Are you intimidated by poetry or the ‘poet’ – do poems often seem remote, difficult, dull, inaccessible?
Well, you will be pleasantly surprised to take a look at the library’s copy of Bern Porter’s Found Poems. This book is the opposite of any poetry anthology you have ever perused.
First published in 1972, with no index, table of contents, or even page numbers, the very non-traditional and graphical pieces do delight.
A poem often takes up one page – and is built from ads, junk mail, charts, icons, technical drawings, pages from catalogs – in sum, something easily found. Porter then alters, repositions, glues and snips the objects into a recomposition of great wit, paradox, and surprising immediacy. Found poems can be, and are often, wordless. Is that a poetical contradiction for a poem?
The foundness of the poems is part of the concept. Porter wrote that “the American College Dictionary in the course of defining found, founder, foundry, page 480, reveal[s] anything, everything can be cast, recast, including words, hymns and art”.
Some of our most famous poets used the “found poetry” technique – incorporating snippets of real speeches, letters, texts written in Antiquity, and more into their otherwise original compositions.
Here’s a bit from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, published in 1922. You can see some of the pastiche nature:
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order? 425
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins 430
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
In just these few lines, Eliot quotes from Dante’s Purgatorio Canto XXVI (lines 427-42), Gerard de Nerval‘s Sonnet El Desdichado (line 429), most recognizably, a children’s song (line 426), Kyd’s drama the Spanish Tragedy (line 431). Datta, dayadhvam, damyata (Give, sympathize, control) comes from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and Shanatih is an ending word to an Upanishad.
And here are some actual poems from Porter’s Found Poems – What do these poems say? Who knows, but I would argue that they challenge me to consider the meaning of the everyday, very ordinary images, graphics, ads, and logos that I encounter but never consider “poetical” or particularly interesting. What do you think?
And who was Bern Porter? Born in 1911, Porter began his career as a scientist, working on the development of the cathode ray tube (the basis of TV) and the Manhattan Project (the atom bomb). But Porter was deeply attracted to art – particularly avant-garde art. He knew and met Einstein, Oppenheimer, on the science side; and Henry Miller, and Allen Ginsberg, on the art side.
He lived in among us New Jersyians in Princeton and Paramus NJ very briefly, and in California, Guam, and ended up finally in Belfast, Maine. Along the way, there was a very brief stay in a mental institution.
In Belfast (the big red X), Porter somehow became their first poet laureate. He christened his Belfast home at 22 Salmond Street The Institute of Advanced Thinking. Perhaps a playful reference to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton?
Porter promoted the union of science and art, coining it SCIART; composed more than 80 books; ran for governor of Maine (oh, yes, he lost), and much much more.
Becoming the gadfly of Belfast, he advocated all kinds of projects – which were often considered odd and cranky– but many of his suggestions are now very main stream, including these that have been realized: bi-lingual signage, better bus service, found art throughout the town, revitalization of the city harbor. Porter’s ideas came so fast and furious that the local town paper, The Republican Journal, annually printed an Op-Ed of Porter’s vision for community improvement.
You can check out more about Porter at these sites:
- LOST AND FOUND: The Work of Bern Porter from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art Porter
- The Bern Porter estate website
- Bern Porter information at Ubuweb
But even more fun – why not create your own found poem from the detritus and thinginess about you. Here are two that I put my hand to. What does it mean? I don’t know! But it invites you certainly consider the meaningness of words, signs, the stuff in our everyday life
Finding#1 by Karen!
Finding#2 by Karen!
is seen How
it is seen Why
it is seen
- Karen S.
Bern Porter poems from Found Poems, used by permission from the publisher