An experiment with listening: Creating found poems from conference presentations (Adrian Schoone & Sarah Penwarden)

In this post Adrian Schoone and Sarah Penwarden describe how writing found poetry can be a creative approach to engage with conference presentations and provide pointers for writing conference poems.

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

Heidegger once observed that what was most thought provoking is that ‘we are still not thinking.’ We contend here that perhaps what is even more thought provoking is that ‘we are still not listening.’ When it comes to conferences, that we know ‘how we listen’ is as taken for granted as much as the seats we sit on, the conference programme and the buffet lunch.

In this blog post, we draw from our recent article, The pull of words: Reliving a poetry symposium through found poetry, to put a spotlight on listening, by providing some insights into an artful experiment with found poetry.

For many years we (Adrian and Sarah) have both attended poetic inquiry symposia. While the gathering attracts researchers from multiple disciplines, poetic inquiry method is what brings us together. An array of poetic approaches to research are presented, such as poetic approaches to gathering research data and/or the creation of poems as research findings. A unique aspect of the symposia, made possible with less than one hundred attendees, is that all sessions are plenary: everyone presents to everyone. This democratic and inclusive approach assisted to graft us (fledgling poetic inquiry researchers) into the scholarly community.

At the 2015 symposium hosted in rooms at the Botanic Gardens at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, we decided to conduct a poetic inquiry to explore how we listen and what we listen for in the academic presentations. We decided to attend to listening by creating found poems; selecting words and phrases from the academic presentations. “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems” (see definition here). We formulated the found poems from notes in our journal, unstitching the presentations and restitching them, and sometimes into entirely new meanings. We then shared these poems with each other as a way into exploring how we listened for each line. Surely, at a poetic inquiry symposium we had a distinct advantage with our quest!

We direct you to our article, for examples of our found poems. In this blog post we present the following found poem written by selecting phrases from our article to recreate the essence of our experience:

We identified the key approaches that each of us took in creating found poems. Adrian’s approach was in response to the felt sense: my sighs, my laughter, how I held my breath, how my body stirred on the chair, the closing of eyes and leaning into the warmth of words. Adrian would say he attempted to represent an aesthetic and affective perception through a constellation of words and phrases that calls out to me. Sarah discovered that not only were the poems an attempt to represent key messages from individual presentations, the collection of poems fulfilled a greater role in providing a thread that pulled the conference together. Sarah would say, I was taking up the words and making a greater story of small lines. She would describe these as cento poems where various sources are knitted together to create a literary patchwork, and an overall narrative (see Harmon & Holman, p. 92).

In sharing the poems with each other we challenged private sense making. The inquiry gave us an opportunity to reengage with the symposium, reliving and remaking it through found poetry. Our collaboration helped us re-see the conference from fresh perspectives only to highlight the very contingent nature of (presented) knowledge. In this way, the conference is not viewed as a series of packaged ideas that conference attendees takeaway or use, but rather conference presentations pose as provocations that invite (artistic) interrogations. Interrogations that can bring something new to the world.

While we undertook this poetic inquiry at a poetic inquiry symposium, it is equally possible (and refreshingly transgressive) to create found poems from any conference! We leave you with a few pointers to create found poems from the next academic conferences you attend:

  1. Have paper and pen ready. Listen attentively and notice how your body responds to the presentation.
  2. From the presentation, note down all the words and phrases that ‘jump out to you’, or that are curious. Write all of these down. (A tip: make sure you write down some concrete nouns, i.e. words you can see, touch, feel and/or taste, as these will anchor the poem.)
  3. After the presentation, read your notes aloud. Strike out any words and phrases that do not pull you in. (Striking out words will create compression and make your poem ‘pop’).
  4. Read through your edited poem. Has it grabbed an essence of the presentation? If not, what words need to be added in, or what words need to be taken away? Try rearranging the words, playing with their order. Consider, does the poem feel ‘complete’? 
  5. Give your poem a title.
  6. Share your poem with your conference buddy. What collaborative sense making occurred in the dialogue? What new insights does it evoke?        
  7. Feel free to share an excerpt of your poem in the comments thread below!

Author Bios

Dr Adrian Schoone is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Auckland University of Technology. Poetic inquiry is central to his arts-based research methodology. His book Constellations of alternative education tutors: a poetic inquiry, Springer documents his phenomenological and experimental approaches to found poetry.

Dr Sarah Penwarden is a counsellor educator at a Laidlaw College, and a therapist in private practice in Auckland, New Zealand. She is also a poet with forty poems published in literary journals in New Zealand/Australia. She is interested in cross-pollinations between poetry, therapy, supervision, research, and education.

Author: CI_Jamie

Academic at the University of Warwick. Interests: higher education, sexuality, gender, equity. PhD in Doctoral Education from Auckland University.

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