This is part b) of my found poetry blog. I wrote in part a) that I was introduced to found poems during my creative writing degree years. I later remembered an album of songs from the late seventies I listened to many many times: My Life in The Bush of Ghosts by David Byrne and Brian Eno. What was special about this album was that the vocals on each of the tracks were from sounds plucked from radio stations around the US. It has everything from an on-air exorcism to a political apology to the beautiful voice of a Lebanese mountain singer. Of course, the musicians sought permission to use the samples in the songs they composed, but I recall being impressed by this unique approach to songwriting at the time, well before sampling was commonplace.
Recently I was reading David Byrne’s book How Music Works and he writes about another album he later wrote where its songs were all plucked from speeches made by Imelda Marcos, wife of Ferdinand Marcos, former President of the Philippines. He explained how he was creatively energised by using the words of another person, enabling him to write songs that he may not have been able to write otherwise, if using his own words, and from his own perspective. Much of Byrne’s book is about his musical journey, his search for new sounds and new inspirations across many cultures around the world, and it highlights the amazing path he and Talking Heads have been on in their efforts to take music to a new place. Their recent concert Utopia rates as one of the best music videos ever made.
We may define such song-writing as a type of transcreation of the original source of words, a bit like how a translator translates a work from one language to another. It’s an acceptable form of creative activity, though it’s advisable to acknowledge the original source of the words. We are also moving into the realm of pastiche, a form of artistic expression where artists uses an existing work of art to create a new one through its imitation, re-expression or re-interpretation.
What I have discovered about found poems is that it’s not so easy to go hunting for them. They are more than likely to remain hidden. We can only harbour a desire to find such a poem, and sometimes when we least expect it, they just appear before us. This is what I found in writing my current collection Canaries in the Sunshine. What’s really interesting is that my intention in this work was that it would predominantly be a collection of sonnets. And I found some wonderful works of prose that suggested themselves to be re-expressed in this format. A couple of examples are shown below:
The first example is from Bulgarian physicist, Stefan Marinov (1931-1997). He was, to put it mildly, an unconventional scientist, a defender of both the free energy concept and perpetual motion. The official story is that he jumped to his death from a staircase in the library of the University of Graz, after leaving a suicide note on his desk. That suicide note, one single paragraph, as you can imagine, was a vivid summary of all was important to him. This paragraph screamed out to me to create a sonnet and hence:
After having walked so many years on the thorny way of truth,
I became tired. My books and papers are my scientific testament.
I hope that soon the absolute (Newtonian) space-time concepts,
which I restored by numerous experiments and by mathematical theory,
will be accepted by the scientific community
as those corresponding to physical reality.
I hope that the perpetual motion machines,
of which I constructed many prototypes
without closing the energetic circle,
will successfully be built by other people.
And if my achievements in space-time physics, in electrodynamics
and in the domain of the violation of the laws of conservation
will be silenced also after my death,
by leaving this world I can only repeat the eternal words: feci quod potui1.
(footnote 1: I have done what I could)
The second example is from the prose writing of one of Russia’s most celebrated poets, Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922). I found this excerpt in an essay of his, The Radio of the Future, inside The King of Time, a collection of Khlebnikov’s writings translated into English by Paul Schmidt.
A Futurist Could See It
The Mussorsky of the future
is giving a coast-to-coast concert of his work,
using the Radio apparatus to create a vast concert hall
stretching from Vladivostock to the Baltic
beneath the blue dome of the heavens.
On this evening he bewitches the people,
sharing with them the communion of his soul,
and on the following day he is an ordinary mortal again.
The artist has cast a spell over his land;
he has given his country the singing of the sea
and the whistling of the wind.
The poorest house in the smallest town
is filled with divine whistlings
and all the sweet delights of sound.