Found fiction

There’s a genre of poetry known as ‘found poetry’ which involves take words, phrases and sometimes longer chunks of text from various sources and arranging them in a poetical way. Here’s a blog called simply ‘found poetry‘ with the subtitle ‘pulling poetry from pages of prosaic piffle’ which features many examples.

There’s a short story called Useful Phrases by Gene Wolfe based on the phrases found in a phrasebook, including such gems as Pava pacch, tîsh ùtra. Neéve sort dufji. (How like a ghost are the fountain’s waters! The flood carries away my riches), and Semphonississima techsodeliphindera lafiondalindu tuk yiscav kriishhalôné! (How delightful to discover in the shrinking sea a crystal blossom of home!”) – I suspect these phrases come from an imaginary phrasebook in a made-up language, but could be wrong. The story appears in Wolfe’s collection of short stories: Strange Travellers.

After discovering this today on this blog, I started thinking whether it would be possible to construct a story entirely or mainly from the phrases in a phrasebook, or maybe using a language textbook or grammar book as your source. Stories put together in this way might be called ‘found fiction’. Phrasebooks and other language books would probably be a good source of found poetry as well.

This entry was posted in English, Language, Literature, Words and phrases.

5 Responses to Found fiction

  1. Trochee says:

    Ozarque ( has discussed this idea of a glossary- or phrase-book format for SF stories quite a bit, with some success.

  2. lynneguist says:

    You might be interested in Annie Dillard’s book of found poems, Mornings like this, which includes a poem devised from snippets of Leonard Bloomfield’s Language. It ends up being a story of heartbreak…

  3. dmh says:

    I think I read on the How to learn any language forums about a french guy who learned English using Assimil and then wrote a play detailing his study that used a lot of the dialogues from the Assimil Anglais sans peine book.

  4. dmh says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t finding anything so I posted the previous message just a second before I found this:

    The guy is French/Romanian:Eugène Ionesco
    The play is called: The Bald Soprano (La Chantatrice Chauve)

    (The following taken from Wikipedia)

    At the age of 40 he decided to learn English using the Assimil method, conscientiously copying whole sentences in order to memorize them. Re-reading them, he began to feel that he was not learning English, rather he was discovering some astonishing truths such as the fact that there are seven days in a week, that the ceiling is up and the floor is down; things which he already knew, but which suddenly struck him as being as stupefying as they were indisputably true.

    This feeling only intensified with the introduction in later lessons of the characters known as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. To his astonishment, Mrs. Smith informed her husband that they had several children, that they lived in the vicinity of London, that their name was Smith, that Mr. Smith was a clerk, that they had a servant, Mary, who was English like themselves. What was remarkable about Mrs. Smith, he thought, was her eminently methodical procedure in her quest for truth. For Ionesco, the clichés and truisms of the conversation primer disintegrated into wild caricature and parody with language itself disintegrating into disjointed fragments of words.

    Just a word about the play: With a record number of interpretations, it has become one of the most performed plays in France.

  5. Charles says:

    Brian Eno in his song Cordoba apparently did something similar. He took lines from a Spanish textbook and made a song of them. Here are a few lines from the song:

    The lift stops between two floors.
    You start to walk towards the station.
    I walk towards the bus.
    We’ll have to wait at the station.

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