When Sara Adams reads the newspaper, she’s looking for poems, at least during the month of April.
Adams, a 26-year-old pre-school teacher at Fairbanks Montessori School, is one of 78 poets from seven countries participating in a unique poetry project in which poets use text from local newspapers to create one poem per day while adhering to specific constraints, called prompts, which change on a daily basis.
“Every day is a different prompt,” Adams said while sitting at a knee-high table in her classroom. “Some of them are pretty easy, like ‘pick words starting with the same letter,’ but some of them are pretty complicated.”
For example, one day Adams had to find lines of unintentional iambic pentameter in news articles and turn them into a poem. Another day, she used only words that were included in headlines to create poems. Another day, she used words according to the Fibonacci sequence, a number series used in Indian mathematics.
“You have to really sneak around looking into subjects, ideas and subtleties that you don’t normally use,” she said. “I’m having fun.”
The poems she writes are posted each day on a blog (custominterior.wordpress.com) and linked from the Found Poetry Review’s website www.foundpoetryreview.com. There also is a Facebook page where participating poets can communicate and exchange ideas.
A poem she wrote titled “Where the deceased go to retire” on April 1, for example, was a Quote Centro, which consisted entirely of direct quotes, or parts of quotes, that appeared in stories in that day’s edition of the News-Miner. She used the quotes in the order they appeared in the paper, starting from front to back, adding punctuation as necessary. The first quote came from none other than Sourdough Jack, the News-Miner’s iconic, cartoon curmudgeon who appears on the front page each day with some sort of wisecrack related to a front-page story.
Here’s what she came up with:
Where the deceased
go to retire
I ain’t switchin’ to digital
it’s kind of like where the deceased go to retire
she’s so devoted to her mother, Mrs. Robinson,
but sometimes you want to get into a new car and go
The poetry project, formally called OULIPOST, is coordinated by the Found Poetry Review as part of National Poetry Month. The Found Poetry Review is a journal that publishes found poetry, which is poetry created by taking words and phrases from other sources, in this case local newspapers, and turning them into poems by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text and punctuation.
While it’s “pretty cool,” it’s also a lot of work for nothing but fun, Adams said.
This is the third year the Found Poetry Review has led a OULIPOST project and the second year in a row that Adams has participated. Last year, the journal enlisted 85 poets to create found poetry from the 85 novels that had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction as part of its Pulitzer Remix project. For that project, Adams chose Ernest Hemingway’s classic “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Adams enjoyed participating in last year’s event enough — “It was a blast,” she said — that she applied to do so again and was accepted. The biggest challenge this year is coming up with a poem per day with source material she doesn’t get until the morning of the day the poem is due, though she knows the prompts for each day of the month beforehand.
“In past writing challenges, it was possible to write in advance and spend a bunch of time on the weekend cranking out poems,” she said.
The only prep work she could do for this year’s project was to color code the month of prompts in terms of difficulty so she knows how much time each day she will need to spend to create a poem.
Adams has been writing for as long as she can remember. She grew up in Seattle and attended college at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., studying language, writing and education.
“I liked to write as a kid but mostly fiction,” Adams said. “When I was in school poetry had to be a certain form and had to be about a certain thing and had to be recognized by certain people.
“I wanted to write whatever I wanted,” she said. “I didn’t want to write what other people wanted me to write, to adhere to all these rules, which is funny because now I’m seeking out not only rules but bizarre rules.”
One of last week’s prompts, for example, was for a beau present, a poem that contains only the letters in a person’s name. Adams chose Fairbanks city mayor John Eberhart’s name from a story about him appealing a campaign finance fine. However, Adams used “city mayor John” instead of his first and last name to restrict herself from using the letter e, which made it more challenging, she said.
Here is the poem she came up with:
hot John, hot Ron
in hot ranch
hot in city
not in March
In addition to the challenge of creating a found poem each day of the month, Adams said part of the reason she’s doing the project is to get to know Fairbanks better. She moved to Fairbanks from Oakland, Calif., last August with her boyfriend, Greg Petrovic, who is attending graduate school at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for creative writing.
“I’d like to spend more time immersing myself in what’s going on in the community around me and get a sense for the goings-on in Fairbanks,” Adams said.
Ironically, Adams said she can’t ever remember buying a newspaper of any kind until April 1. Now she buys and reads one every day.
“I go to Sunrise (Bagel & Espresso) every morning,” she said. “My coffee run is now my coffee and newspaper run.
“This is the most I’ve known about news locally and in the world in a long time,” Adams said.
Being the only poet in Alaska to participate in the project is another cool thing about it, Adams said.
“Nobody else is writing about curling or mushing or geese,” she said. “Fairbanks has some pretty intriguing journalistic coverage.”
Here’s a tautogram Adams wrote on April 5 called “Migration & Medicaid.” A tautogram is a poem in which all the significant words begin with the same letter. The word “monumental” was a natural break in the story, which Adams found ironic and kept in the poem the way it appeared in the story:
market Members and middle Management
Mark migrant minutes
months, miles, minutes
in the morning March
meeting money will move money
Matt and his monu-
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