The Found Poem: A Teacher’s Creative Strategy Toward Student Engagement

In Oceanside, California, poetry enters the classroom at MiraCosta College as mentor texts, that perform and empower student readers. Professor Maria Figueroa uses the found poem in particular to encourage students to question and rewrite the oppressive narratives spilled from the mouths of politicians, journalists, and other media outlets.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the found poem, defines the found poem as a piece of work constructed from “…existing texts… refashion[ed]…reorder[ed]…and present[ed]…as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, the found poem is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.”

In using the found poem, Professor Figueroa teaches the art form to provoke discussion alongside the text, Twilight Los Angeles: 1992, by playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Students are able to interact with poetry and racial literacy to create necessary conversations in the classroom, concerning current issues with police brutality and the histories that surround such oppression. Below, Professor Figueroa discusses the challenges one could face as an educator when teaching politically charged texts. In search for solutions, her integration of poetry became the intervention needed to help students engage with historically written narratives.

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“ In the emotional and political aftermath of the unjust deaths of several black men at the
hands of police, my desires to address these racially charged issues became urgent. How could I use my position as a professor of literature and composition to address the #blacklivesmatter movement not through a knee-jerk liberal response that would simply make me and my students feel bad and later relieved that the trigger wasn’t on me/us, but in such a way that challenged institutionalized racism and the myth of a post-racial society? How could I use the artistic tools such as theatre, music, and poetry to unravel social injustice? These became imperative questions guiding me to understand that historical context was necessary; it was a must!

Having an academic and practitioner expertise in theatre and performance, I committed myself and my students to teachinglearning through Anna Deavere Smith’s, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 a documentary theatre piece documenting the aftermath of the Los Angeles uprising (oftentimes referred to as riots) in light of the brutal police beating of Rodney King. I was nervous and quite uncertain if my students would embrace Smith’s technique toward raising consciousness but also in its attempt to humanize the multiracial and racially /ethnically diverse community of South Central Los Angeles. Here I am, introducing an artistic literary and performance piece 25 years later to a generation of Millennials. I needed help and pedagogical intervention.


With the brilliant intervention of my SDICCCA intern, Karla Cordero, I was encouraged to use the ‘found poem’ technique as a means to address the emotionally and politically charged content of Twilight. As per Karla’s suggestion, I asked students to bring into class an article that directly spoke to any and all issues related in the text. I also encouraged students to find lyrics to a song of the times (1990s) or of the millennium, also containing thematic threads or references to the issues in Twilight. These found texts would be the trust of the found poem exercise. Students seemed to welcome this assignment, as it was a departure from the heavy discussion of the docudrama. I read their willingness to participate in the exercise of blacking – out / erasing ‘found’ text as an act of exercising academic and political agency and recreating a new narrative of history.

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While my goal was to have students acknowledge the inter-generation connections between and among Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Emmett Till & on & on.., I felt that simply talking to them about these connections was not enough. The found poem exercise centralized the discussion in a more concrete manner by inviting students to exercise their creative agency. Through the recreation of a new – found narrative, rooted in a previous dominant narrative, the exercise revealed the social ills and their historic origins much more profoundly than could have any discussion format.”





María Figueroa is a maestra, momma, theatre artist, poet, daughter, sister, and traditional Aztec dancer who makes her professional home at MiraCosta College in Oceanside California as a professor of English Composition, Literature and Humanities. Originally from the city most marginalized by the Orange Curtain, Maria’s roots run three generations deep in SantAna, California where the rooster’s crow awaken working class dreams. Along with her precious masterpieces, Cuauhtemoc and Esperanza Tonantzin, she makes her home in the Kumeyaay coastal north county of San Diego, where she also enjoys long spiritual runs.


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