Perhaps now more than ever, ain't nobody got time fo that

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Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination
by E. Lepore & M. Stone, 2012

Perhaps now
More than
We spend our days
Immersed in

Talk Write and
Through a burgeoning array
Of forms and

But MOST of US
Rarely STOP to THINK
About how
Or how come
We succeed
In getting
Our ideas
In worDs

It all seems to happen naturally
Or the merely
Sometimes confront these

But it is a job
That often
To linguists and
Philosophers of

That's a willful mangling of the first paragraph of a nice piece over at the New York Times on poetic interpretation, by Rutgers Cognitive Scientists Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone. The article centers on a cute analysis of some found poetry, which is used to make a broader philosophical point about the role of interpretation in communication.

Found poetry? That's what I was attempting above. A well known example is the wonderful but well worn poetic reworking of Rumsfeld's speeches at Slate. The reason Lepore and Stone discuss the found poetry genre is that it invites us to contrast minimal pairs of straight texts and poeticized versions of the same texts, and thus gives a vivid demonstration of something much more general, the alternative interpretations open for a given text, and the active role that reading and interpretation plays in giving any text meaning.

All rather postmodernist, no? Denying an inherent objective meaning to a text, so that the deconstructing observer can make Derridean hay? Or perhaps you hear an Eco of late 20th century semiotics? But actually, neither are really what Stone and Lepore are getting at: their point, I take it, is that the way we process language contains both the possibility of artistic reinterpretation, and the possibility of precise, scientific communication. The active-ness of interpretation that is obvious when processing poetry, and which can recast any utterance in a way the speaker never intended, is the same active process that is needed in order to figure out what the speaker actually does mean.

Well, I'll leave you to make of the NYT piece what you will. But before you go read it, perhaps you'd like something better than my meager attempt at the found poetry genre? I can do no better than offering you one of this year's internet sensations, a piece of found linguistic brilliance that merits a sociolinguistics conference all by itself, Sweet Brown's "Ain't nobody got time fo that":

p.s. Your favorite (but, ideally, short) bits of found poetry are welcome as comments.
(Hat tips for links: Moni Kiraly, Nic Kaczorowski.)


  1. Morten Jonsson said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    Bridge freezes
    before road surfaces

  2. zythophile said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 9:58 am

    My favourite bit of found poetry is a notice in carriages on the Paris Metro, "Un signal sonore annonce la fermeture des portes", which works as poetry just as well or better in English, "A sonorous signal announces the closure of doors."

  3. Joe said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    whatever pose you adopt
    whatever precautions you take
    so that the photograph will look like this or like that
    there comes a moment when the photograph surprises you

    it is the other's gaze that, finally, wins out and decides.

  4. S. Norman said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    Charles Spearin's Happiness Project:

    Might be the opposite of autotune. He reords people talking and then writes music to fit the melody of their speech.

  5. Derrick said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

    Looking for found poetry can be a particularly rewarding pursuit for Freshman Composition instructors. Just FYI

  6. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    According to the article:

    But, of course, Feuer has selected examples from countless others that do not work as poems. It is this act of curation that makes the column a celebration of the poetic imagination.

    So it seems like cheating to just take their first paragraph. Better to seek a more found-poetic passage. Here's my attempt:

    We sometimes try to get clearon the facts,so we can reach agreementon how things are.But we sometimes try to expressourselvesso we can capture the uniquenessof our viewpointand experiences.

  7. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

    (Dunno why WordPress strips out <br /> . . . try #2:

    We sometimes try to get clear
    on the facts,
    so we can reach agreement
    on how things are.

    But we sometimes try to express
    so we can capture the uniqueness
    of our viewpoint
    and experiences.


  8. John Lawler said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    Terry Pratchett's sruff is full of them. Here's one, already formatted:

    – recipe for the Ultimate Banana Dacquiri (from

    Take One ticket to New Orleans
    Take One cab to Bourbon Street
    Take steps to the counter of the all night frozen dacquiri shop.
    Take One Large Cupful.

  9. Bob Lieblich said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

    There's a whole book of found poetry from the broadcast musings of Phil Rizzuto, long-time shortstop and even longer-time announcer for the New York Yankees. The name, which fans of the Scooter will recognize, is "O Holy Cow." Several "poems" can be found scattered throughout the following blog post:

  10. ADL said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

    A whole plethora of found poetry (of a very specific kind) can be found at "Google Poetics":

  11. marie-lucie said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

    Un signal sonore annonce la fermeture des portes

    'A sound signal warns of the doors closing' (as opposed to, for instance, a light coming on).

    I don't see the French sentence as particularly poetic. "Sonore" just means 'making a sound', not necessarily 'sonorous' which suggests a sound quality. The sound signal could be a beep, a bell, etc.

  12. D.O. said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 5:40 am

    @marie-lucie. At least two actual announcements from the Moscow underground Стойти справа, проходите слева (Stay on the left, walk on the right) and Осторожно, двери закрываются.(Attention, the doors are closing) are found their way into the song lyrics. The first one, obviously from the escalator announcements, was used by Bulat Okudzhava in a pretty neat song. The second was the basis of some throw away pop song. Anyways, if you hear some standard expression day after day, it is probably enough to make it sound like poetry.

  13. D.O. said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 5:41 am

    Oops. The translation above is clearly mingled Стойти справа, проходите слева = Stay on the right, walk on the left.

  14. Stan Carey said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

    Is it still found poetry if there's some manipulation involved? When E. E. Cummings' 70 Poems collection was rejected by 14 publishers, he brought it out under his own imprint using $300 he got from his mother. Renamed No Thanks, its dedication page had a concrete poem with the names of the 14 publishers arranged in the shape of a funeral urn.
    It's not my favourite found poem, but I saw it recently in Gary Dexter's book Why Not Catch-21?

    Farrar & Rinehart
    Simon & Schuster
    Limited Editions
    Harcourt, Brace
    Random House
    Equinox Press
    Smith & Haas
    Viking Press

  15. Stan Carey said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

    Huh. I thought the center tag would do the trick. Half a funeral urn, then.

    I rearrange books to play with their titles, calling them bookmashes. I got the name from Adrian Morgan and the idea from Nina Katchadourian's "Sorted Books".

    (By coincidence, on Twitter today I quoted this line from Neil Postman's Technopoly, echoing Mark's third verse above: "Most of us, most of the time, are unaware of how language does its work.")

  16. Faldone said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 8:12 am

    An error message from the old Xerox Sigma 6 CP-V days:

    Global symbol table
    overlaps pure procedure.

  17. Karl Pichotta said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    I spent a while finding youtube (etc) comments to make into free verse at

  18. Ivan said,

    May 3, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

    Found on the Administrators Noticeboard for Incidents, on Wikipedia:

    for their sloppiness, what else is there?
    A shoulder to cry on?
    a pat on the back?
    a sympathetic ear?

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