Finding Inspiration in Lost Places
This week, Emma Datson shares with Mona readers the art of recycling existing poetry and in the words we are surrounded by in our everyday lives.
There is so much inspiration for poetry in our every day lives, and for me up until recently that has usually meant my life, feelings, and events around me. That is, until I got introduced to the concepts of found poetry and erasure poetry, through a very exciting exchange program between Deakin University and the University of Glasgow. I undertook an intensive online summer course called 'Writing in the City' with the aim at looking at our urban, or in my case the urban/rural, environment of the cities and towns we live in, and how it can contribute and indeed, inspire our poetry.
Found poetry involves looking around you in your everyday life, at home, work, on a walk, in the supermarket, basically anywhere you go for something that might inspire you and maybe even include in a poem. Found poetry, as a discipline, was invented in the 1930’s when a doctor, William Carlos Williams left a note on the fridge for his wife with some suggestions for their grocery list on it. From this he created the poem ‘This is just to say’ (Williams 1938), which starts with the lines:
‘I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox…’
An example of a found poem that I wrote after visiting the Cobar Cemetery is below:
Sun Set Met Time
For me this is an existential poem speaking of the inevitability of time. That at the cemetery everyone is equal, the sun sets, and we all meet time, as it were. This found poem has been created from mashing two pictures together that I took on my visit to the Cobar Cemetery.
The Cobar Cemetery is called ‘Sunset Gardens’. So the ‘Sun….set’ in the poem/picture above, was created by editing the picture to move the ‘set’ from ‘Sunset’ gate down a little bit to separate the word to give it more emphasis.
The ‘Met…time’ was created from ‘erasing’ some of the words a picture of the Cobar Cemetery opening times sign, taken on the same visit.
This is the very definition of found poetry, in that I was out about just trying to some inspiration from the urban/rural environment that is Cobar. When I was at the cemetery I suddenly thought about making a poem out of the information of the cemetery gates and the gates themselves, and I did.
Erasure poetry is the poet’s way of doing a collage, in essence. In that you taken an existing text, block out or cut out words to leave a smaller text. These too are found poems but not usually found out walking in the street, but rather inspiration is found from already existing texts such as newspaper articles, street signs, advertising leaflets, speeches, other poems or in my case tourist brochures.
I was glancing through the tourist brochure 'Backtrack to the outback: the Kidman Way' made by the Kidman Way Organisation. In their section on Cobar there was a description of the Fort Bourke Hill Lookout, which is located just outside of town and is a view into a working mine, and a popular tourist destination for many who visit town.
Top Lookout Dramatic panorama surrounds Cobar Gold mineral belt visible out and down, mate history fascinating.
You can see how this poem was created by blocking out certain words, to only some words visible, or in some cases only letters, to make the resulting erasure poem. This poem is very tongue-in-cheek, but I think shows how anything can be turned into poetry, whilst also speaking of, the importance of mining to Cobar and also shows the down to earth nature of the place.
The next erasure poem has been created from an anonymous poem called ‘Night’, from an undated book called Lilliane Brady Village poetry book featuring local artists. This book seems to have been written to raise funds for the Cobar aged care home, the Lilliane Brady Village, sometime late in the 20th century.
Night Night dark Softly Whispers luminous glory fading preparing coming splendour see, The sweet message of the breezes to me.
This poem reflects how I feel when I am on Country in Cobar, and you can see how it was created by blocking out certain words of the original poem to make my own new one. Also in this case, I have added two additional words at the end, to ensure that the essence of the poem, was being heard.
The second poem I have used to create an erasure poem is called Copper Country by Mrs Joan Mellings taken from The Cobar Copper Centenary 1869-1969, written to celebrate the centenary of mining copper in Cobar, even though the actual centenary was in 1970.
Copper country earth, dust, rust, life, drought, Copper mine, town, Slag green history’s age weather’s rage. seems the sky tribal ground?
This poem reflects the importance of copper, droughts, and dust are in Cobar’s history, but yet also tells the story of the inevitability of time, history, and ‘weather’s rage’ compared to the ineffable sky and the traditional owners of kubbar or Cobar as we call it now. Again, you can see the smaller version of Copper country was created by erasing words from the original.
Now, for those wondering if found or erasure poetry is truly an original poem, the answer: yes it sure is! This is truce because the poet must make their own interpretation on the original text and then choose what to include in their own work and thus create a piece with your voice and narrative imprinted upon it.
Erasure poetry has become very popular, again, thank to its very "Instagrammable" nature. As you can see from the poem’s I have presented here, you are left with an image that can easily be placed on Instagram and other forms of social media for 21 st creatives to share to their followers. But has in fact been around since the mid-20 th century, with many modern poets indulging in the craft of to be had in found and erasure poetry, including TS Eliot and Ezra Pound.
Some more resources, for those wanting to read more about found and erasure poetry are:
‘About found poetry’, Found Poetry Review.
Kristen Anderson, ‘Find Original Poetry Hiding in the Pages of Your Paper’, New York Times, Jan 30, 2021.
American Academy of Poets, Found poem.
American Academy of Poets, Erasure.
Carl Rumens, ‘Blanked verse: the power of erasure poetry’, The Guardian, Nov 12, 2021.
Billy Mills, ‘Poster poems: found poetry’, The Guardian, Aug 9, 2013.
Emma Datson is a 40ish medically interesting, emerging Australian poet and writer, who is beginning to use her voice. She and her family moved to Cobar, NSW in 1982, and it was that the red dust akin to rust, made its indelible stain on her. Cobar, or Kubbar, as the traditional custodians of the land call it, a place of ceremonial significance to the Wongaibon people of the Ngiyampaa nation. Emma moved to Canberra, Country of the Ngunnawal people, and learnt how to become a library technician, a librarian and then an information architect, whilst working in the Australian Public Service for about 20 years.
Emma started writing poetry in high school after being haunted by 'The Love Song J Alfred Prufrock' by TS Eliot, the evocative language and yearning of the poem, including the the eternal footman and the mermaids who would not "sing to him", often echo in her own poetry. Emma loves to play with language and words to express her own human condition through writing. Her writing is mainly concentrated on poetry and life writing and — soon — creative non-fiction.
Emma moved back to Cobar, NSW, after spending a few years in Brisbane/Meanjin, Country that has inspired her poetry. Exploring the secret life, rhythms and seasons of the Brisbane River, inspired her to let go of her own fear and anxiety of the world, and to embrace life again. And most to all to start writing again – eternal footman be damned!
She enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Writing and Literature at Deakin University, studying in the cloud, and at the end of 2022, she became a casual reporter for the Western Plains App, who report on a large area of NSW west and north of Dubbo, including Cobar, Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Coonamble, Coonabarabran, Condobolin, Nyngan, Narromine, Gilgandra and their shires.
Emma is particularly proud that she was published in the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s first ever issue of the Bard Review, “celebrating the next generation of Classics”, with her sonnet, 'Blue Butterfly Dreams'. You can find more of her writing on her Vocal page and on Twitter. Emma’s superpower is her vocabulary.
You will find that Emma leaves her soul in every letter and word that drips from her pen. Her voice rings out its aching grief, love and loss, that make us all human. Despite this, her light is a beacon full of love and hope, that shines out from her work, illuminating the dark.