A lot of the the things I write happen because of found poetry. If I hear something said in class, or church, or on the street, or on the radio, or wherever else that resonates, I write it down. Sometimes I wrap a poem around it, or turn it into an essay or a story, or a punchline or the beginning of a speech. If I read a sentence that is odd or memorable, I have this compulsion to write it down and save it for possible use later. Bumper stickers are a common point of departure for me.

If I want to comment on how I listen pretty well, even when I don’t want to, I first think of once overhearing a classmate say that she has her eggs stored: “two fresh and two frozen.” I’ve probably tried to write an essay a story and a poem around that phrase, but the only thing that survives is the “two fresh and two frozen” in my mind. Both TMI, and not enough.

Every day I collect scraps of language and store them in my head, or scribble them on the first available paper that my pen finds. These are some of the specific details I will have on hand to insert into my writing later, or use almost unedited and call a poem.

Here’s what I mean. This was an exchange I had the other day in class:


“Why can’t we do a paper on something that we are interested in?”

“That’s what we are doing.”

“You said we should write about something we like.”

“Like and interested in are almost the same thing.”

“Really? Oh.”


Her face lights up and she walks away.

We do what we can.

It’s not great, and I don’t think it’s quite a poem, but it’s in the right ballpark. This is an example of the kind of poem that often stays in the notebook and never gets typed or shared. It needs something more. But I I think you get the idea.

Here’s another example. This is the first poem I read out loud publicly (except for within the context of my class). Clem Stark (a local poet) released a new book this summer and there was an Open Mic after his reading.



“How would you like

to ride on a ferry?”


He’s skeptical. Sighs.

“Dad, they’re not

even real.”


Pauses. Considers. Grins.


“And even if they were

They’d be too small to ride.”

Here are some examples of phrases or sentences that almost work as poems by themselves. Each one of these I have likely tried to use in a story or poem or joke or essay or sermon or classroom illustration. For now, only the sentence survives.

The first sentence of a student’s essay:

Nobody knows what it’s like to be a teenager.

Two answers to a question asking for a list of the original 13 colonies:

New Hampster, Wyoming

Something I heard myself say before class one day:

Please put away your Ziploc bag full of mouse skulls and take out a pencil.

I drove past this billboard the other day:

Visit discovertheforest.org

This was in a letter accompanying the International Pathfinder 8000 8-Band Radio:

Your World Has Just Become A More Exciting Place To Be!

The letter continues:

Dear Friend of The Longines Symphonette:

You now own one of the finest and most powerful long-range multi-band radios ever produced by your Society!

“ever produced by your Society!” Wow. Right? Big claim.

Or this complaint from two girls we babysat for the weekend, 10 years ago:

“We always have the same kind of ice cream.”

Meant as a complaint. WE! (you’re not alone) ALWAYS! (consistency) ICE CREAM (ice cream!)

Or this announcement before a soup tasting focus group a the OSU FOOD SCIENCE & INNOVATION CENTER:

We are gathered here today because of our love for Minestrone soup.

Or, this, from a student a few years ago:

Mr. Ellingson, you know how you are always writing down things that we say? What if we wrote down things that you said?”

I can only imagine.

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