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In a corner of our home office sits a purple plastic tub overflowing with a tangle of stuff some might consider garbage: carpet samples, bubble wrap, egg cartons, paper scraps, net produce bags, etc. To me (and my daughter), the tub is a treasure trove of potential sculptures, toys, and collages.

Art made from found objects has always intrigued me, so a couple of years ago I took a collage class at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. It was love at first sight when I saw the large work table engulfed in ephemera, paints and tools. Experimenting with every technique the instructor demonstrated, I clipped, pasted, scraped, stitched, reamed and sand-papered with abandon, producing a collection of small, unique collages.

I wondered: Could I approach words with the same intuitive playfulness that I approached collage?

Collage, which comes from the French word “a coller,” meaning to glue, can be applied to many other art mediums, including writing. From writing a novel or short story with a narrative collage structure to creating poems and prose with found text, writers can use collage to great effect.

Longer works I’ve enjoyed that use a collage structure include “The Gifts of the Body” by Rebecca Brown and “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout. These examples share the use of scene fragments or snapshots to illuminate a character or a theme and the lack of transitions allows the reader to fill in the gaps.

Word collages can be short, too, and put together fairly quickly by making loose connections and playing words and phrases off of one another. Sources for text are boundless and can include:

  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Takeout menus
  • Want ads
  • Comic books
  • Your own writing

Since I’m not planning on writing a collage novel anytime soon, I took a crack at writing a word collage or found poem. Drawing on the perpetually replenishing contents of my junk e-mail folder, I saved emails for about two weeks, copied the subject headings as they appeared and stuck them in a list. I then cut each heading out and starting arranging and rearranging on my dining room table. Click here to read the resulting “poem”.

The process was fun and amusing as I noticed the recurring themes of the emails — food, sex, fear, relationships – comprised the wide base at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The hardest part of the process was not overthinking and just experimenting with the sounds and flow.

In the spirit of Adrienne Spangler’s recent post, “It’s Supposed to Be Fun!” making word collages can loosen up your writing muscles and provide a quick and easy way to play with the sights and sounds of words and phrases.

Creating more traditional visual collages can also enhance your writing, but that is for another post!