Greg Santos with a work in progress. Photo by Rachel Levine.
Montreal poet, teacher and editor Greg Santos is Montreal’s ambassador to the Pulitzer Remix Project. As part of National Poetry Month in Canada and the U.S., 85 poets from seven different countries submit found poems based on Pulitzer Prize-winning literature every day for the month of April. The goal is both to create an anthology of the best poems written for the project and to shine a light on an obscure corner in the house of poetry: the found poem.
“Found poetry is the literary equivalent of collage,” Santos says. “You begin with a source text that already exists — a newspaper, a magazine, junk mail — and use it to create a poem.” The poet alters the source text, whether by crossing out words, cutting up and rearranging phrases, or even combining chosen lines taken from multiple sources.
For the project, Santos chose The Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin (1944 Pulitzer Prize winner for Literature). “I thought it had an evocative title and was open to interpretation,” he says. “I didn’t know the text before. I’ve never read the work, but I intend to read it when I finish the project.”
Not reading the source text? Santos explains, “I’m using a known, prize-winning text to create something new. I don’t want to be swayed by the story or paraphrase what’s happening in the book. I scan the text for words that leap out at me.”
Using a Sharpie, he blacks out the rest, leaving behind his selected words. “When I’m done with the page, I read what remains, going from left to right as a text.”
The process is fast and unpredictable. “The exciting part is that I don’t know where I’m going,” Santos says. “I am surprised by what comes out. It’s different from creative inspiration or planning. The words come from elsewhere and something new is revealed.”
The Pulitzer Project is not Santos’s first foray into the style. Along with three works of more traditional poetry, Santos has published found poems using what he calls a “remix” method. “I go through the page scanning for words that I like or find interesting and put them aside. When I finish the page, I rearrange the words out of order from how they appeared in the text. It’s similar to sampling culture.”
Santos has made use of some interesting sources in his previous found poems. “I take lyrics from Britney Spears, Ke$ha and Lady Gaga. I use junk mail and spam. I even use tweets, combining different status updates. The rule is that I don’t add extra words or change anything. I rearrange the words to make something new.”
If nothing else, Santos appreciates the goals of the project. “Poetry month is a chance for people to discover poets they normally wouldn’t read or think about,” he says. “It’s okay if they focus on poetry for just a month. Poetry is kind of seen on the fringe, as it is. But, for poets, they just have to keep on being artists and creating. I’m a poet 24/7/365.”
Found poetry in particular is a great way to bring poetry to the masses. “Found poetry comes from a place that poetry exists everywhere,” Santos says. “That might sound corny, but it’s the idea that poetry can be found in our everyday life, in everyday text like newspapers, books, graffiti signs and menus. Found poetry highlights that you can find poetry in unexpected places.” ■