Collage Poetry – A Lot of What You Might Like To Know, I Hope

I’ve done a post before on how I write collage poetry, but it was a couple of years ago, I’ve come to understand more about my writing process, and some people have asked recently how I go about things. So I thought I’d write about this topic again and give some more detail.

What is collage poetry? That’s my name for poetry I create out of words, phrases, or sentences I cut out of print. It’s not found poetry, where I mark out words in a text – it’s more like collage art, where I take bits and pieces and rearrange/combine them into my own work.

OK. First I assemble my supplies. I have a collection of discarded library books that I use. I choose books that I think will have the right kind of vocabulary or subjects that I might be interested in – usually this means fiction. I collect large-print, mysteries, literature, old, new, children’s. Usually I’ll use a book for a while and then get tired of it and throw it out or use it for something else.

I don’t predetermine what I’m going to write about. I don’t have rules, except this one: I don’t construct words out of individual letters (ransom note style); it’s too tedious and seems confining. I value this writing process for the way it comes about, with the visual words leading me, rather than me trying to illustrate my thoughts. If I want to do that, I’ll get out the keyboard and type them myself!

So I don’t care what pages or what words I happen to have to work with.

I start a session with leftovers from previous ones (I save words and phrases already cut out in a box, as well as cut-up pages) and I pull out pages from my book collection so I’ll have some fresh new material. I generally have on hand a collection of things already cut out, and if I don’t, I will spend some time looking through the book pages and cutting out things that interest me. (I often will cut out words, to have them already prepared, while I’m watching TV or listening to the radio, etc., at a time removed from actually working on poems.)

I gather scissors and glue and I get some white matboard discards that I use for work areas. Once all that’s done, I am ready to settle down to working.

It’s here that I think my description will become vague. And that’s because I just wander along, pushing words and phrases together, until something starts to make sense to me. Usually things start with dumping some already-cut-out words on my work area and seeing if anything wants to come together. I group words that seem to have some sort of affinity – maybe it’s subject or theme, or even parts of speech (such as words ending with -ing). I just line them up, no particular order.

It is important, at all parts of the process, but especially here, not to decide where the poem is going and to try to find words to fit it. The idea is to let the words develop things for you. To facilitate that, it works well to have several poems or idea areas going at once.

As time passes things start to fall into place. I find themes or words that are starting to cohere. I also don’t hesitate to break up a group of words and scatter them around the other groups if I feel like it. Nothing is set.

Once I’ve gotten this far, I usually start looking over the book pages for new words and phrases. By now, since I already have some direction to my work, my selections are more focused. I have found that it is the nature of this process to be like a funnel – a lot of material goes in at first and gradually, as choices are made, those choices guide the later steps.

By the time the poem is almost finished, I might be looking for a certain word, but I try to keep my mind open for the poem to take an unexpected direction and to consider words that might veer away from what I was searching for. Sometimes this happens and then – the poem splits into parts and becomes more than one poem – the poem is suddenly finished in a way I hadn’t anticipated – or, the poem now needs changes in the lines it already has so as to accommodate the new idea.

Finally, when everything is done, I glue the poems on to a surface – in my collage poem book, on mail art, whatever. Then, it’s done and really done, although to contradict myself, I have been known to peel up words or paste over them if I get a better idea (or find a better word) later on.

Hope this helps and if you have any questions, let me know. And, I hope you will try some collage poetry.


13 thoughts on “Collage Poetry – A Lot of What You Might Like To Know, I Hope

  1. It’s great to see your process. I spend lots of time cutting out things from catalogs and magazines for my collages, and then I sift through the boxes of cut images and colors in a similar way that you do with words. Sometimes something will catch my eye and send the image in a different direction too. I’m enjoying your end products!

  2. Thank you. I have done collage (art, I mean) for some time as well and I believe the poetry and art collage processes are very similar. I love the serendipity aspect of both of them. And then there is the opposite – sometimes I know I have an image or word in that pile of papers, and I can’t find it, and I swear the material is hiding for me and so I say, I think it’s telling me it’s not right for this place I want to put it. Especially when later it turns up, after I’ve already gone on!

  3. I reblogged it. And.

    I can’t thank you enough for what nice things you said, and that you tried out the method. It made me feel great. Thank you for your faith in what I said that led you to give things a try.

    And I love literal thinking, too. You know, things like when people say “I was so upset I literally pulled out my hair” etc. The eye thing is hilarious!

    I’d love to see that poor guy and what he does to find his eyes…

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