How to make a found poetry journal from an old book

July 4, 2015

Last week I had a brilliant Twitter chat with some members of my writing gang Wordsmith Studio. We’ve been good social media friends since we came together three years ago.

There was a thought that I might show how I make journals out of old books, this one specifically for found poetry.

I love making these little journals, they’re as easy as pie and as cheap as chips to make. (great, now I’m hungry)

I first got the idea from a beautiful book called The Humument, an upcycled Victorian novel, by artist Tom Phillips. Although he’s altered over 370 pages, my journals are a bit more manageable, and the pages are sturdier and able to hold paint.

So here we go:

Go to the goodwill, local flea, thrift, secondhand book seller, raid your grandmother’s book shelves, find yourself an old book.

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Decide the feeling of the book you want. Some books I look thru to make sure I like the content, some books I don’t preview because I want each page to be a random experience. This book I previewed.

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Begin grouping the pages in groups of five or six. It all depends on what you want. If I want a poetry journal, I don’t really want my page to be the end of the book’s chapter or an illustration, so I’ll group six instead of five pages. Also, if you’re using a book with very sturdy pages, you might like to consider groupings of three or four pages.

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I always leave the frotispiece and the dedication/publisher info pages alone and begin with the first few pages of the book.

Now lay the book on a side where the pages lie flattest, usually on its back spine, and glue the first five pages together with a glue stick.

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Each time you glue one page to the next, close the book and give it a little press to avoid buckling. That way, when you pick up your new “page” made from the five pages, it will be smooth and wrinkle free. It’s a bit of a tedious task, but goes by quickly.

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Now the fun begins.

Now that you have divided your book into thicker, sturdier pages, open it up to one of your pages and read the content. What I usually do is get a feeling of the poem I want. Maybe one word jumps out at you, maybe just a couple words, maybe a whole sentence. Circle the words/sentence with a soft pencil. Now go back and read your circled words. Do you need to pick up some words to tie your poem together? Circle those too. Decide on your sentences, on your line breaks.

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Now it’s time to commit. Get a pen, (I used permanent ink pens because I already know I want to use paint on the book and so don’t want the margins to bleed)…

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…and outline your poem.

What works brilliantly for me is the Humument way of linking words together by snaking my lines thru the page margins, between word spaces, and around the gutters. Some words I want to stand alone and so are not linked.

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Pretty soon you have a visible poem emerging from your pages.

And next you have a world of choices.

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For me, I like to draw on the page behind my poem to have my poem stand out. In this book I decided to draw a meadow and paint it in with water colours. Here I used acrylic paint. Here I used collage. In past books I’ve used ink or even black paint to obliterate the unwanted writing on the page. You decide what you like. By far the easiest is using felt pens as I’ve done here. This is also the most transportable system and might work as well for you as it does for me.

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Once you’ve drawn your design, gently, GENTLY erase the pencil lines. These books can be pretty fragile, so always use a gentle art eraser and never one of those horrible, pink, school supplies ones.

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There you go! All that’s left is to colour in your design, possibly touch up the lines around your poem…

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…and your page is finished.

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This poem on this page reads:

Wild whim
hot air
until some hour when the moonlight among the pines has drawn up the Earth
woods by moonlight
most beautiful
near, for ever singing

If the night be fine, there is a wild wind, that never rose above a whisper
so pure
with the moon a deep breath,
the wind the singer
to whom singing was a little thing in the world.

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Now lay your new book out somewhere where you can walk by it and read it, admire your work, and smile. 😀

There you go guys. Any and all questions are very welcome. 😀

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