The Wellspring; Found Poetry

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
by Katherine McCord

One of the most fascinating things I ever read about craft was in Ernest Hemingway’s essay, “On Style.” That guy. I guess I didn’t trust him. He definitely doesn’t come from a woman’s perspective, and he definitely, to me, represents the canon where men dominate in publication and editorship, I’m sorry to say, given the backwards state of things. But we were assigned it in an undergraduate class I took. I had to read it being the good student I was. And I took away something that still rests with me. Well, two things:

1. There are no characters, only people.

In other words, we were to focus less on an intellectually preconceived plot where you want these people to do what you want in the story, because, since they are people, they are—and now Hemingway used a metaphor—they are icebergs.

2. People are icebergs.

In the story you just see a tip, the tip of the iceberg, but what’s in the ocean, the part you never see in the story or novel, has to be there. That person’s full life. What he or she has done and lived and likes to eat—all of it. Again, the stuff never mentioned in the story. But unless you know your “character”/person like that, there is no story. There can’t be. How to get there is the hard part. Some of you will just know this person inside because you carry her history, so that if a person asks you a question about her, you’ll be able to give an answer that isn’t intellectual, but just is. Or maybe some of you will explore the character, be the character, to know. Or maybe some of you will just write and that character’s whole history, her every thought will show itself, the life she’s lived by the way she is in the story.

"The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

I think as writers we must study and be a long time to find those moments of grace and I think that’s why we write. Found Poetry is like that. There’s what’s underneath, except your art is a wellspring.

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Want to learn more bout found poetry, and give it a try yourself? Join Katherine McCord's online class, FOUND POETRY: Erasure, Blackout, Cento, Cut-Up, Free Form and Craft Elements (Concreteness, Tone, Lineation, and Dramatic Shape), a six week course starting on Monday, September 3, 2018Early registration is recommended!

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Katherine McCord has two books of poetry—Island and Living Room (prose poems)—a lyric essay memoir, My CIA; a poetry chapbook, Muse Annie; and a literary memoir, Run Scream Unbury Save, that was winner of the Autumn House Open Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. She has published widely in literary journals, such as American Poetry Review. Katherine has an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Creative Writing. In 2011 and 2014, she won Maryland Individual Artist Awards (state grants in creative writing in poetry) and has won other awards or placed as a finalist, such as for the Frank McCourt Memoir Prize. You can find out more about her on


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