Friday, August 24, 2007

Poetry Prompt with Google Tidbits

Like many of us, I'm sure, I find myself more and more relying upon the internet to locate material to use in my poetry. I often perform a search when I'm several drafts into a poem. For example, if I'm writing a poem about an artichoke, as I was a few years ago, I put "artichoke" into a search engine and find myself taken to a bunch of sites where I acquire bits of esoteric information about the artichoke as well as some diction I might not have thought to use. I then import some of the bits of information and the vocabulary into the draft. (Usually too much and then I have to ruthlessly chop some out.)

I also from time to time put my name into Google and do a search. (Don't pretend that you've never done that!) It's quite gratifying to the ego to see what pops up. Among the good stuff, however, I've found some really weird entries that don't have anything to do with me or anything I've written. For example, my name might be included in a list of other women named Diane. Or I might find something at a clothing site about red dresses. So recently I started copying and saving these strange entries. A number of the lines resonated and I found myself thinking about them as I went about the business of the day. You know what that's going to lead to! A poem! So yes, my work of the last week or so has been a found poem made up of these strange Google tidbits. I'm calling it a found poem, but I could probably also call it a flarf poem as I understand flarf to be poetry created using search engines.

So if you're looking for a fun prompt, search your name on Google, collect the odd pieces of information, and assemble them into a found poem. If you don't get enough material, use other search engines such as or You may rearrange the lines as you like. You may change verb tense, add or delete "s," truncate lines, or make a composite line out of several. You may also add maybe half a dozen words. Let the poem be as weird as it wants to be.


  1. Oh, man. I never want to know what's said about me or my name. I avoid all such searches. But maybe I'll choose someone else's name, and pretend it's mine . . . and use that as a prompt for an alternate life . . .

  2. That would also be a fun way to approach the prompt. Part of my material-gathering included a search on Diane LockwOOd as people constantly misspell my last name. What I found also became part of the poem. I'm still trying to figure out the form of your "Red Blossoms." I thought sestina, but alas, no.

  3. This is a great idea! Here are two other computer-enhanced starters I like:

    (1) Take a simple phrase to the Babel Fish Translator (, run it from English into German and back, then into Spanish and back, then (etc.) The phrase that comes at the end of however many tranlation loops you have patience for is usually pretty interesting. I like to try to use it (or something close to it) as a first line.

    (2) A little more seriously (anf flarfily, if we're using that word correctly), Leevi Lehto has a Google Poem Engine ( which works on a search string, grabs phrases from multiple sites and reports them as a "found poem" of sorts. I prefer to manipulate a little after that, but some of the direct results have been pretty interesting; visit the Anthology on his Engine page for some examples.

  4. Thanks, David, for those two new ideas. I'm planning to use at least one of them this week. I love the cross-feeding coming from blogging.

  5. I've used the babelfish "method" before. Most productively, I've used it when I'm stuck on a revision or just need to spice up the language a bit -- I'll throw the draft, or a portion of it, into babelfish and take it through two or three different languages. Sometimes one of the odd phrases that shows up manages to take the poem in an interesting direction.

  6. Dear Diane,

    We published a reprint of your beautiful poem, The First Artichoke on Axis of Logic: I also converted your bio on this page to third person and included your photo.

    Thank you!

    Les Blough, Editor
    Axis of Logic
    Boston and Caracas


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