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Found Poetry – unpredictable spontaneity

In Healing Words, Loss, Grief and Hope on November 21

“You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.”

W.S Burroughs – writer|artist

And a handful of pens. I’ve decided there are distinct benefits to being bunged up with a raging cold. As my body and mind were too exhausted to do much this weekend, on Friday night I started snipping away at a 2015 copy of Bella Grace that I’d never got round to reading last year. I thought I’d give a visionboardythingy a go but the truth is – I’M JUST NOT IN TO THEM, never have been. They tend to fall behind cupboards and I forget they’re there. Best place for them.

As for Bella Grace, I was gifted a subscription last year. Though the magazine is utterly gorgeous, I struggled to relate to that level of gorgeousness (what,no graffiti?) even though it celebrates life’s little complicated moments too. I’m just not the ‘flowery dress girl holding a pile of books in a field’ type of girl. Right now I’m sat in my M & S underpants, a fleece and flip flops at my tiny desk. The central heating is on full blast. I’m that kind of girl – pants and flip flops. In a centrally heated terraced house in the middle of an ex-industrial northern town.

I digress. It was pure unadulterated pleasure trashing Bella Grace. Cutting. Snipping. Blowing my nose. Ripping. Mindlessly. Thorough inspiration. I confess to reading some of it too and enjoying it. The typesets, the images, the words are stunning. Before I knew it I had a pile of words and sentences waiting to be formed in to something surprising:

This is the cut-up form of Found Poetry. Weirdly, the poem seemed to find me and felt deeply personal and soothing, maybe relating to the loss of my father and the time-out that I’m having now to catch up with my good s-elf. There was no conscious intention in the creation of this theme for the poem, I just played around with the cut-up words until I found a sequence I liked. Then I thought ‘ooooohhhh’. Hmmm.

More poems found me speaking of faith, strength and loss. Erasure and cut-up together:

I loved the free form almost daydream-like quality of creating these poems and the fact that it felt at the time, that their creation required very little thinking or concentration. Tapping in to the ‘unconscious intelligence’ as David Bowie, who used cut-ups to create song lyrics described it. He goes on to say it is like playing with words, a kind of ‘western tarot‘ revealing ‘disassociated ideas‘ and ‘awkward relationships‘ and I would say awkward truths too.

William Burroughs describes it as introducing ‘...the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors’.

I was ready for unpredictable spontaneity.

Given my snot-infused state, I decided to have a creative weekend, handing myself fully over to cut-ups and a bit of erasure too. I needed not to think – just be. And to be able to blow my nose as often as needed.

As the weekend progressed, I became conscious of a theme unfolding through the cut-up poems that were being formed. It’s been 9 months since my Dad passed away and the last few months have been a struggle. Out of respect I can’t go in to detail here, but let’s just say awkward truths have made for a complicated grieving process meaning I’ve found it hard to connect with my Dad lately. Journalling has been practically non-existent.

Last Wednesday I received a photograph of Dad’s ashes finally being scattered in the sacred River Sutlej in Punjab, nestled amidst stunning mountains. In the photograph, his ashes seemed to be flying in at speed, taking a last leap in to the river below.

Clearly, my unconscious mind was processing a lot of STUFF through the random words and finding a way to communicate with me.  The found poems started revealing hidden messages imbued with layers of meaning. It felt like a mystical process. I could feel outer layers of STUFF loosening and a softening that surprised me.

On Sunday I created this poem:

As I was creating the found poem, I felt a weird surge of energy, a tingling. I felt the presence of my Dad. After many months. This may sound weird but  in that moment it felt like Dad had found a way to communicate with me through cut up words. My fingers were being pulled to particular words and sentences.  I could feel his laugh, smell his joy and hear his soul.

Reading back through the previous poems, I began to see the thread, the connections, the communication.

Is it real? I don’t know. I don’t care. It is ENOUGH. To touch the soul again of a dearly departed one through a ripped up magazine.

On Friday night, I’d been struck by a quote in Bella Grace by Bernard L. Lifshutz;

“When we are old, our lives become the sum of all who we have loved. It is important not to waste anyone.”

In a rare journal entry I wrote that night:


I have a lot to express in myself that is just not coming out. I can’t journal. I feel stuck about Dad…maybe the masters has sucked up my words, I am bunged up with a cold. I want easy, I want play. There is something very comforting about glue sticks, scissors and paper and not thinking. Of allowing thoughts to wander and jump and wonder. Beautiful typefaces help.


The quote made me think of Dad and of those who are still living. Was I wasting Dad? Was I wasting people I loved? I had to confess – I probably am. Maybe it was this quote that lubricated the way for unconscious creations this weekend, influencing the deep flow that emerged. Words I very much needed to hear to shake me awake. I agreed with Bowie, using cut-up helps you get out of your own way, out of your rational and conscious mind that might repeat the same old story, and in to a possible profounder truth and new story.

I’d found a safe way to express myself through Found Poetry and Dad had found a vehicle to speak to me “don’t waste me, spreading kindness, love no matter what.” 

(A big thank you to all the wonderful wordsmiths and artists from a 2015 Bella Grace magazine. Alas, as I went in to a cutting frenzy I didn’t make any notes of creators. If you happen across this post and in any way unhappy please message me here.)

6 comments... (add a comment)

  1. Prerna Uppal

    Thank you for this beautiful post Dal! Inspirational, poignant and heartfelt. I can’t tell you how much I loved the poems – tremendous.
    I hope you feel right as rain soon! Sending you love and positive vibes. xx

    • Dal

      Thanks so much Prerna! Lovely to see you here : )) Really glad the post meant something for you. It definitely was a strangely mystical process. All the very bestness to you xox

  2. This is just magical Dal. Such beautiful poems! I loved seeing your workspace and the poems and the journal entry… absolutely brilliant. Love the pants and fleece and flip flops… I’ve been there myself. I hope you’re feeling better- this seems like the best possible way to get through a cold.

    • Dal

      Thanks so much Caroline. Glad we are united in underpants, flip-flops and fleece writing attires. It’s the way forward to release those creative juices ; )

  3. I love this! I love the idea that the words and poems find you. I’m leading a workshop on writing for creative self-expression next month and will include this as an exercise.

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