Construct the Labyrinth from Which You Plan to Escape


Found Poetry found me. I started this website as a science blog, but then I saw poetry in mundane texts – just as you see faces in things.

I created poems from spam comments, from search terms, from physics textbooks, from book spines, from error messages, from Facebooks ads, from any text anywhere in the virtual scrapyard, the digital detritus of The Internet. My own (normal) blog posts became raw material for poetry, as well as older poems of mine.

This was not as original as I figured. The Internet told me that I was an epigone of poets of the virtual scrapyard, and Found Poetry predated the virtual era.

Recognizing and remixing snippets accounts only for half of the strange fascination. I would be overwhelmed by having to choose any snippet I like, and to re-arrange endlessly without constraints. Found Internet Poetry has the best effect if subject to tough constraints. I feed an initial incantation into the search engine. I have to work with the first search result, picking a snippet of text from this page. To progress, I need to follow a link right on this page; then I am at the mercy of the next page.

Some pages are devoid of words, let alone full sentences. Sometimes they are self-referential, and you end up in a warped space connected to itself. One poem screamed Cache Cache Cache until I finally find an unobtrusive link that will get me out of the wormhole.

It would be easier to allow for re-arrangement of snippets, to go back and forth in a text to search for connectable phrases. Poems under constraints leave you exhausted, but creation – though imperfect – feels more satisfactory.

Recently I’ve learned that such arbitrary strong – and silly – constraints are called Oulipo:

Oulipo (… French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated: “workshop of potential literature”, stylized OuLiPo) is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques. …

… Queneau described Oulipians as “rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape.”

Oulipo can cure writer’s block:

When criticized for imposing rules that took the freedom out of writing, [Oulipo founders] replied that the only way to be truly free in your writing is by imposing constraints. They held that when rules were put in place the possibilities of the creative process were endless.

I use Endless Possibilities as a title and a seed for Google. Then I restrict myself to the first search result, pick a snippet, and hop from page to page, semi-consciously harvesting phrases. The poem shall have stanzas – three lines each.


Endless Possibilities
what you see may be influenced by things
I will always cherish this game.

background play
that just wasn’t innovative enough
painting the whole planet mars

their applicability to our universe is not a settled fact
there are certain topological obstructions

Many counterintuitive consequences emerge
as a (halfway) redemption
close to the horizon

If you are a researcher
You are free
We invite you to join us.

for a brighter future for all
innovate and experiment
Recover and Reimagine

you can become
happy with it
after the closure

Intangible Heritage
from dinosaurs and diamonds
has never been greater

She had no fear
watch dystopian corporate wellness seminars
Our society is totally nuts

run out of the video frame
UFO captured on camera
without breaking laws of physics

Alpha, beta, gamma and delta
help scientists unlock
the collective chirping, tweeting and singing


The first search result was a YouTube video, and the interstitial web page asked for consent. I count it as a valid page, and the Agree button is the next link to follow. A social network is hard to escape by design. You can only hope for a commentator leaving an outbound link. I made my Oulipo rules harder ad hoc: View 666 replies is not a permitted link.

It is getting trashy, and all links look spammy. I risk to click on a super-small link related to a YouTube Ad, anxious because it sounds like a German internet domain. I might need to spot English snippets on a German website.

Fortunately, there is no malware after the click. There is no web page either. A blank tab opens – literally about:blank. my next ad hoc amendment of the rules: I may click on a link in the browser’s bookmark menu. It is a physics article, hallelujah!

Science and tech websites come with other challenges – if you want to find the timeless line in the mid of jargon.

More obscure websites. They deny you outbound links as the platforms do. I am trapped inside a museum website. Negative-sounding words suddenly look alluring. Which illustrates how this restricted, semi-conscious poetry works: You start collecting snippets that reflect your mood, in a veiled, twisted sense, like dream images. Sleep researchers say that dreams help with regulating your emotions, with integrating experiences with your true self.

Guidelines on Found Poetry say you should start with an idea in mind what the poem should be about – then pick phrases that match this plan. I for one don’t have a plan. Maybe my subconsciousness has.



(Image from my series Infinity)

3 Comments Add yours

  1. This is so playful. :) I never had heard of Oulipo before. I love that writers and mathematicians were among the members. As I mentioned, I enjoy the meta-textual snippets (i.e. “It is a physics article, hallelujah!”). There is a scientific method to collecting the parts of the poem that is interlaced with creative choices and textual analysis. As always, I enjoy it.

    A friend of mine does an activity of taking a selection of old magazines and tearing from them any images that are of interest, using no plan about which ones to choose; the only constraint is the physical collection. When she is done she makes a collage of the collected images. She says it helps her get in touch with her subconscious in the way that dreaming does. I hadn’t thought of the similarity in her art and yours, until I realized you both analyze it similarly. If copyright wasn’t a thing, it would be interesting to collage images from on-line as you do lines for your poems. I wonder what would happen.

    1. elkement says:


      You could work around the copyright by overlaying images or using only tiny parts so that the original is no lower discernible. A friend of mine created images of faces by overlaying several pictures of people found via image search: (and somebody named elkement created related poems by searching for the artificial images in Google Image Search again ;-))

      Maybe having to process an image in a way that copyright is not an issue could be another Oulipo rule?

      As usual, there are interesting coincidences! As you may have noticed (from the math posts / topology talk), I seem to be interested in The Visual, having declared myself a text-only person before :-) I enjoy pencil old-school drawings and ASCII art – still thinking about how to Oulipo-ize it! ;-)

      1. I like the book!
        It is an interesting suggestion for collaging on-line. That would be a nice project after a busy day of work.

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