Thursday, 14 March 2019

Found Art/Found Poetry

Found art is a type of art that uses ordinary objects in the same way that more deliberately created art is treated. The Tate Gallery has a fantastic explanation of found art objects, including many examples of found art.

The idea is that all objects can be considered art, especially if they are put in a context that makes them art. When people collect sea glass, for example, or display a piece of driftwood they like, they are creating found art objects. A toddler's scribbles framed and mounted in a nursery, pretty buttons arranged in a row on a shelf, or an antique hoe put in the backyard for display, all are examples of found art. Other artists alter the found art objects, such as using them as parts of a larger work.

I have created a work using found objects, an acorn and a paintbrush. I don't consider the photograph to be part of the art, by the way, though I could have if I intended to frame the photo and display that.

V. Zenari. Acorn and Paintbrush

I like the balancing trick, and I like the lighting around the acorn (shadows below the brush and on most of the acorn).

People's homes are full of found objects treated as art. People may be more sceptical of found art when it put in an art museum with a person's name and a title, as though that person shaped that object rather than found it in a flea market or even lying in a garbage heap. Dada artists often did this kind of thing: Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (an unmounted urinal) is a good example.

Found poetry is a subset of found art. It is poetry created by words created for some other purpose than poetry.  To see some examples of found poetry, visit The Academy of American Poets website or
this discussion from The Guardian.

One can format or edit a text in its entirety, or use pieces of different texts to make a collage of some sort. Verbatim is an online magazine that accepts only found poetry.

For me, I worry about copyright. But if the original is in the public domain (for example, is really old), or if you created or transcribed somehow the original words yourself, I don't see any trouble with reusing texts created from other texts.

Below is a found poem of mine that uses word from Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in Feburary 1862. 


Be Jubilant

Since the truth is tramping on our hearts
Let us die transfigured in my bosom
like the lilies in the evening
read the glory of their beauty in the dim
My soul answers holy the fiery gospel
at the heels of love’s terrible free sword.
Be swift, circle the camp where the lamps flare
Build an altar to us where lightning fires and
sifts the burnished steel of affection’s battle

Never retreat

Hymn to us, fateful coming
with the sentence of grace

Answer my writ

Crush me


I wrote another found poem using the simple method that Verbatim suggests: take a text not intended to be a poem and format it like a poem by adding line breaks. I used an an old template for a corset advertisement in the Dry Goods Book, a marketing manual the Emergence of American Advertising 1850-1920 digital collection at Duke University.

The Way a Corset Is Made

The way a corset is made
has everything to do with
its comfort, appearance, 
wear. The ——
corset is made of
good materials and is
flexible. That’s the
of success. It will adapt itself to
any form, as if the
wearer were
into it. It couldn’t fit
better. The flexibility makes it fit
perfectly. It makes it
comfortable. It makes it
economical. The price is $ ——.

There is no
corset made which will give
the same amount of
satisfaction, wear, and
for the

Thursday, 31 January 2019


This December I received a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council to complete a book of poetry on my province's natural regions. As a result, these days I am knee deep into poetry.

My husband for Christmas bought me Stephen Fry's poetry-writing book, The Ode Less Travelled. I've decided to do some of his exercises.

First is his third exercise, which requires writing iambic pentameter with and without caesuras (pauses) and enjambment (unpunctuated line endings).

1. Five pairs of iambic pentameter without caesura or enjambment:

Outside the Window
I see the snow and then again more snow;
upon the streets and lawns the snow piles up.

What I'd Like to Eat
I wish to eat all day and night a cake,
with frosting chocolate and thick on knife.

A Recent Dream
I dreamt I lost my schedule for class,
and wandered round the school till half-past five.

Pesky Tasks Overdue
In Gabriel's room I'm cutting out old rot,
since summer's inconvenient flood caused mold.

My Body
My gut annoys my means of dress and stance;
my pants droop down but I must still stand tall.

2. The same five topics and meanings but with enjambment in each pair and at least two caesuras

Outside the Window
I see the snow; it's there again. It piles
upon the streets and lawns up here and there.

What I'd Like to Eat
I wish to eat a cake, made by a chef
well-versed in frosting making, rich and thick.

A Recent Dream
I dreamt I lost my timetable. I lost
my locker too, and missed my hardest class.

Pesky Tasks Overdue
The rain had filled the barrel. Water seeped
inside the house, and baseboards warped with wet.

Next is his Exercise 5, which asks for two quatrains of iambic tetrameter, two quatrains of alternating tetrameter and trimeter and two quatrains of trochaic tetrameter. I chose the subject FORESTS.

The trees they crowd around me here
in spite of wind, of cold, of snow.
They stand above with cones aloft
the pine, the larch, the fir, the spruce.

A mound of ice sits by logs long dead
uprooted years ago I'd guess
I sit upon its hardened top
to rest my wearied legs and soul.

I can't believe the hardiness
of life in this cold place
I hardly know what nature thinks
to start new life up here.

If only I could see its mind
discern its thoughts and heart.
but nature's not a person, girl,
just spirit hard and daft.

Gather strength and gird my loins now
Stand and shake my hair of snowflakes
Take a breath and lift a snowshoe
Step ahead and touch the icepack.

Trod upon the drifts and ridges,
Raise my eyes upon horizon
March ahead and bravely sojourn
Take your heart and hold it open.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Delany on Writing AND New Year's Eve Music Countdown

I finished Samuel R. Delany's On Writing, a compendium of essays, articles, and tipsheets by the science fiction writer and critic. In this collection, he sometimes comes across as a cranky old man, but he has important things to say, and his varied career makes him worth listening to.

The following excerpts are from "A Poetry Project Newsletter Interview: A Silent Interview."

A communal task that art accomplishes--particularly the verbal arts of fiction, poetry, and criticism--is to help with the all-important shifts in discourse that must occur for there to be meaningful historical change.

Because it is a communal task, because no single work of art can accomplish such a discursive shift by itself, the artist (responsible only for her or his own work) doesn't  have to worry abot preaching. It does no good; don't waste your time. It's far more effective to look at a situation and dramatize, in however complex allegorical terms you'd like, what it is you've seen. (300)
I like the way he insists that a single work in itself can't be burdened with the responsibility of "changing the world," but that a collective action can do that. Delany rephrases this idea in terms of censorship against an individual text:
For the same reasons that poets and artists don't have to worry about preaching, the general public doesn't need to worry about imposing censorship. "For poetry makes nothing happen," W.H. Auden wrote in his elegy for Yeats. That priviledged lack of power of the single work of art--the single poem, say,--is precisely what, I feel, Auden was getting at.

Many works of art taken together, however, through the very process by which we learn to read them, establish discourses--discourses of the possible, discourses of the probable, discourses of desire.(301)
An attack on a single work is not enough to weaken the discourse from which the work arises.

Delany doesn't care for utopias,  he says, but he knows something about utopian and dystopian fiction. He mentions three utopian/dystopian pairings (he calls them "image clusters"): The New Jerusalem versus Brave New World, which he says is an urban love/hate pairing, Arcadia versus Land of the Flies, which is a rural pairing, and the Techno-Junk City versus the Empire of the Afternoon (302-03).

I have a good sense of the first five of these categories, but I don't know what Empire of the Afternoon might be. Perhaps someone can enlighten me? Post me something.

Finally is a statement that reflects on my series on light and shadows:

Since Wagner at least, silence has been considered the proper mode in which to appreciate the work of art: Wagner was the first major artist to forbid talking in the theater during his concerts and operas. He began the custom of not applauding between movements of a symphony, sonata, concerto, suite, or string quartet. Also, he was the first person, during performances of his operas at Bayreuth, to turn off the house lights in the theatre and have illumination only on the stage.
For better or worse, this aligns art more closely with death: it moves us formally toward a merger with the unknown. (309)
Artists must turn away from the known, the day, that which is immediately perceivable.Art, in its association with the unknown, the night, that which is not visible, frightens some people.


Here are my favourite songs of 2018:

BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, "Look Alive"
Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News"
Florence + the Machine, "Hunger"
Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake"
Janelle Monáe, "Make Me Feel"
Rosie and the Riveters, "Ms. Behave"
Erin Costelo, "All in Your Head" 
Shad,"The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good)" 
Melissa Laveaux, "Nan Fon Bwa"
Jeremy Dutcher, “Mehcinut"

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Prep for New Year's Eve Music Countdown

On New Year's Eve, I like to make a playlist of my favourite songs of the year. I'm not great at keeping on top of new music, however, and I usually have to scramble after renominating Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" from 2014.

This year I will be different! I am going through Billboards's  "Top 50 of the Year (So Far)" from June using the family Spotify account.

Of the fifty, I like the following (I really like the ones with *):

48. SAINt JHN, "I Heard You Got Too Litt Last Night"
*46. BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, "Look Alive"
43. Arctic Monkeys, "Four Out of Five"
42. The Weeknd, "Call Out My Name" 
*39. Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News"
*38. Florence + the Machine, "Hunger"
37. Jessie Reyez, "Body Count"
*33. Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake" 
*32. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future & James Blake, "King's Dead"
28. Cardi B, "Be Careful"
23. Nicky Jam & J Balvin, "X"
19. Camila Cabello, "Never Be the Same"
17. Kali Uchis feat. Tyler the Creator & Bootsy Collins, "After the Storm"
16. Migos, "Stir Fry"
9. King Princess, "1950"
*8. Janelle Monáe, "Make Me Feel"
6. Troye Sivan, "My My My!"
5. Kendrick Lamar & SZA, "All the Stars" 
*4. Childish Gambino, "This Is America" 
*1. Cardi B feat. Bad Bunny & J Balvin, "I Like It" 


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Drama Notes

I flipping through a printout of a short play I wrote and saw some notes I'd written on the back of a page. I should keep these notes in mind for myself, so why not share those notes with others?

I wrote the play as part of a play writing workshop held at the University of Alberta's drama department. One year the workshop was run by Colleen Murphy, and another year it was run by Meg Braem.

The comments likely come from  Colleen Murphy, but Meg Braem might also have said them. Below the notes are my elaborations.
  1. "Without foreshadowing, drama is melodrama."

    Three literary terms are in operation here. Foreshadowing is the hinting of details that will happen later in the plot chronology. Drama is the telling of a narrative in front of a live audience. Melodrama is a subset of drama that arose in the nineteenth century in which music played throughout the performance as a way to set mood and affect the audience's emotions. These days, soap operas continue in the tradition of melodrama by having nondiegetic music--music played unrelated to events in the story and unheard by the characters--play continuously. In melodrama, emotions are stark and strong. Good and evil are easily discernible, and though evil is powerful, ultimately good prevails.

    To me, the quotation is arguing that drama and melodrama can seem similar. A drama can have the same outcome as a melodrama--good vanquishes evil--and generate strong emotions. However, drama establishes a rationale for that outcome in some way. In melodrama, rationale is besides the point. The audience knows how things will end, and they want that ending, and they don't care how that ending comes about. Melodrama is weak on characterization and lacks sophisticated plots.

    Superhero films are melodramas. Even if some characters may, on first glance, seem complex, they really aren't. Deadpool is a good guy, in the end: he is an asshole to bad guys and is rude to good guys, but his actions operate on the side of goodness.

    A happy-ending drama has to work for its happy ending and its emotional effects. Its happy ending is deserved, rather than inevitable. If the happy ending arises out of the blue, with no explanation, it is melodrama. William Shakespeare himself edged his plays towards melodrama (keeping in mind that "melodrama" is an anachronistic term to use). In a plot that threatens murder and rape, Measure for Measure has a surprise happy ending.
  2. "Tragedy is when the past leaks into the present and changes the future."

    "Tragedy" here is the original dramatic idea that Greek playwrights represented a few hundred years before the Common Era. Sophocles's Oedipus Rex well demonstrates the principle. Oedipus unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. In the present, Oedipus decides to find out what is the source of his kingdom's suffering, and he tracks down himself. He blinds himself and withdraws from the world.
  3. "Can a narcissist be humourous?"

    A good question. I would think not.
  4. "Negative action on stage is different from positive action. Negative action does not indicate agency."

    Negative action is action not taken. For example, a person may have the opportunity to steal a purse on a nearby park bench and decide not to steal it. Not-acting is an action: a decision related to action. Though in the lived world a person not stealing a purse is good. In drama, a character not acting is not a real action. Such a character is not an agent: that character does nothing. A lack of agency in a character makes that character passive. Passive characters are not much fun to watch, and they are counter what drama is: actions on a stage.
  5. "In drama, the meaning of life is more important than life itself, said Edward Bond."

    I couldn't find a source for this quotation, though Edward Bond is a playwright whose philosophy seems amenable to this idea. To me, this statement refers to plot and character. A character doesn't have to stay alive in a play. A character should, however, help to explain the meaning of life (what meaning life has). A character may need to die in order to communicate the meaning of life.
  6. "Earnestness is saying, 'This is important.' Preaching is telling the audience how to think."

    The difference is in quality. A preacher has an answer, whereas an earnest person, though he or she may have an answer, prefers to call attention to an issue without "solving" it.
  7. "Arthur Miller said 'right' versus 'right' = drama."

    I traced this idea to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (via Julia Peters's "A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel" among other places). Hegel appears to be discussing Antigone by Sophocles. The "rightness" is from the opponent's point of view. Both opponents see themselves as operating on moral grounds; it's just that more than one moral ground is possible. (In melodrama, one opponent may takes an avowedly immoral position.)

Wednesday, 31 October 2018


Freed from the burden of the light and shadows series I completed in my last post, I have written some poetry. I have also been overcome by two new obsessions.

I have become obsessed with the villanelle, a six-stanza poem of five tercets (three lines) with a final quatrain (four lines). The villanelle has only two end-rhyme sounds, which alternate through the entire poem in an A-B-A pattern. The first tercet's first and third lines reappear, alternating, as the last lines of the tercets that follow it. The quatrain's last two lines are the two repeating lines (that is, the first and third lines of the first tercet).

The most famous English villanelle is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night."  I use this poem to help me remember the villanelle form.

"Villanelle" is a French word, and the form originated as a French-language form on the subject of country life. English writers have since taken the form up. I decided to write a villanelle about a hamlet northwest of my hometown. Villeneuve is a farming community settled by Métis and French Canadians in the late 1890s. That is, I am writing a Villeneuve villanelle.

While doing internet research, I found a villanelle generator. Below is the villanelle I/it generated:

Pere Lacombe's Torment - The Villanelle Of The Farm

A Villanelle by Anonymous

Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm
It was just so furrowed and flat
Never had he known anything so underarm

That morning, Pere Lacombe was shocked by the alarm
He had to calm himself with a rat
Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm

Later, Pere Lacombe was spooked by a charm
He tried to focus on a hat
Never had he known anything so underarm

Madame Boulanger tried to distract him with a smarm
Said it was time to start thinking about a chat
Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm

Pere Lacombe took action like an arm
The farm was like a toxic format
Never had he known anything so underarm

Pere Lacombe nosedived like a harvested disarm
His mind turned into a tat
Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm
Never had he known anything so underarm

(Note that "underarm" and "rat" were supplied by the generator. I supplied "Pere Lacombe," "Madame Boulanger," "farm," "flat," "harvested," and "furrowed."

The poem is quite terrible; yet it has a terrible beauty. So now I am also obsessed by generators.

Generators are computer programs that produce documents (a sentence, a paragraph, a poem, even an entire scholarly essay) using terminology and format rules from a genre of writing. Generators are a low-level form of artificial intelligence in that they are supposed to mimic documents that humans create.

The generators tend to be sarcastic. They operate on the assumption that some kinds of writing are not creative or can easily be mimicked by non-writers.

However—and the however is something that I wrote about in my dissertation—people need rules to understand things. Knowledge is based on previous knowledge. Along with this knowledge are patterns of construction, or rules.

One can think of these "rules" not as a limitation but as a context, a shared body of knowledge. Without a shared body of knowledge, people would not be able to understand each other. For example, a non-quilter would not be able to follow a conversation among a group of quilters. With a shared body of knowledge, including vocabulary, quilters can discuss complex quilt concepts without having to define their terms all the time.

If a genre has a simple formula, a computer programmer can easily create a generator; but as the above example of the generated villanelle shows, generators can do only so much. Some are better than others, of course.

Here are some of my favourite generators:
  • Plot Generator (avoid "naughty" words: the short story generator considered "drug" a naughty word)

    Example: "A teacher from Jacksonville is delighted when she gets the chance to take part in the final of Bake Off. However, her chances are scuppered when she finds out her arch rival is also going to compete. Unexpectedly, the teacher is bitten by a zombie and therefore is disqualified from competing."
Generators are fairly easy to write in Javascript. Inspired by the CanLit Premise Generator, I wrote my own generator for a class I took on web programming:

PS: Here is my own villanelle (not auto-generated and still in progress):


What honour do the living owe?
I walk Villeneuve’s roads in autumn light.
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

Farmers last century heaved earth so
a new town could bring day to wild night.
What honour do the living owe?

French and Metis ploughed field and dug row;
St. Peter’s Church loomed in black and white.
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

This time’s rural ebb and urban flow
swells city suburbs into its sight.
What honour do the living owe?

Circled by highways that blare and glow,
Five streets, rec hall, senior’s home sit tight.
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

I am foreign to this place, yet know
its dead’s made strange by the town’s fresh fight.
What honour do the living owe?
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.