I find that some writings come together relatively quickly. Others I tinker with off and on for years before I’m satisfied. And still others languish in a state of stunted realization perpetually, perhaps never to be completed. I find this equally true of stories, songs, poems, and essays. I have fragments of up to 40,000 words languishing (or percolating) on the backburners of these hard drives. Some are perhaps only the initial workings out of an idea that eventually finds incarnation in some other form or piece. But others seem to be their own thing, such that either I will one day bend them to conclusion, or they will simply sink into the peat bog of the half-finished and the forgotten and the might-have-been.

In celebration of the not-fully-realized, I offer the following found poem. This is one I created some time back, probably ten years ago, limiting my source material to a single page from a history textbook. I never had the settled sense that the poem was complete though, so I never did anything with it. In looking back at it now, I concur with my initial instinct. This poem still needs one or two additional closing lines; some sort of clincher that ties it all up or brings the reader to a new place. Even so, I like what it is and where it’s going.

I no longer have any notion of what I did with the original textbook. If I stumble across it in my basement someday, I’ll try to land the ending. In the lingering meantime, I offer it as a snapshot of a found poem in progress.

[For a brief explanation of “found poetry” please see the earlier Rabbit Room post The City Our Eyes Cannot See.]

A found poem created from the source text: America: Changing Times Since 1865 pg. 663, Charles Dollar, editor

They were hurting. Long after the war ended,
they were hurting. After months of bitter
debate, the conviction was growing that
they were hurting.

As years went by, panic turned in
to a severe depression. They tried
to get and retain power, but without
much success. They tried to work harder
and longer, but the crunch made little
difference to anyone.

They tried to hoard a solution to their ills (This
action failed to end the depression).
The liquor question played upon these and
other weaknesses. The result was
a disaster: They were hurting.

The most enduring problem was
the question at the root of
iron and steel: Those who suffered had little impact;
Those who suffered often made little
difference to anyone. Those who suffered simply
did not have enough “utmost importance.”

Doug participated in the early work of Charlie Peacock’s Art House Foundation, an organization dedicated to a shared exploration of faith and the arts. In the decades since, he has worked as an author, song lyricist, scriptwriter, and video director. He has penned more than 350 lyrics recorded by a variety of artists including Switchfoot, Kenny Rogers, Sanctus Real, and Jason Gray. His newest book is Every Moment Holy (Rabbit Room Press). His other works include The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog (illustrated by Zach Franzen), The Wishes of the Fish King (illustrated by Jamin Still), Subjects with Objects (with Jonathan Richter), and Stories We Shared: A Family Book Journal (with Jamin Still).


  1. Laure Hittle


    This is quiet and painful and desperate.

    i love the line “panic turned in / to a severe depression.” “Turned in to” is so different from “turned into.” It’s collapsing in on itself.

  2. Jen Rose Yokel

    I like the unfinished feeling of this poem though… hurting is incomplete. Maybe the lingering unresolved feeling just makes it more powerful.

    Beautiful, finished or not. But thanks for the peek into the process! I am definitely a tinkerer learning how to let things go. 🙂

  3. DougMc

    Thanks for reading so attentively, Laura.

    Jen, as to letting things go, I think I turned a corner a couple years ago when I realized I was old enough that it was no longer feasible to finish everything I had already started.

    Peter, please share it when you do. : )

  4. Matthew Benefiel

    In my little span of writing I’m already finding little pieces I’ve started that I had already forgotten (note I haven’t truly finished anything yet). One made me laugh out loud in the airport when I stumbled across a title of a book called “When Jim and Debbie Grow a Baby.” I remember it all being based off an idea my wife had where people get smaller as they grow older so an infant is huge compared to his/her parents.

    Anyway, I think you could almost take this poem and turn it to this day and age. So leave what is in tact as is and find a way to jump forward and see that there still is all those same things today, though the causes and the symptoms are different, the end is the same. Truly there is nothing new under the sun and only One can heal the hurt.

  5. Matthew Benefiel

    Sorry, should have read the found poetry link first, I didn’t completely understand, but I still think taking some books from this time with similar feeling would be a cool twist, the language itself would show the shift and show a complete picture of suffering.

    I’m going to have to try this poetry out, I love making connections and figuring out angles.

  6. Matthew Benefiel

    Okay, I had to try this, but I don’t currently have any books with me, but since I do a lot of my “poetry” from my gmail account I decided to take different lines from my own stuff (is that self promoting?), both poetry and at least one short story. Sorry if it is a bit long.

    Wandering eyes and pining heart, long have I looked for the daughter of the skies.
    An absurdity in the dark, a dream in the depths, my troubled heart is a reflection of the headlights in the fog.

    The sky. To see it once again, to know ifs fullness.
    Yet there are no such things, just torment.
    Again my Lord, again, these feelings well up inside. Pent up by lack of motion, held back by my own sin.
    Why do I waver, why do I linger, what chains of iron still to me bind?
    I woke this morning to thoughts I couldn’t comprehend, mixtures of emotion and understanding of the inevitable.
    How can the sick at heart be healed?

    The sky. The indestructible forces of wind that while a tender kiss one moment, a torrent of hell the next.
    The joints of my inmost man creak from the labor, long have these joints labored in vain.
    Oh heart, why do you leap at the chance of misconduct?
    What can my heart beat for that contains true joy?
    Oh heart, how you have led me astray.
    Relentless you are in the pursuit of vanities, strong are you in your misgivings.
    I am afraid of the sin in my heart.

    The sky. A vivid blue when cloudless, a gray beauty in storm.
    A warm breeze in summer to weight the eyelids in peaceful rest, a cold breeze to wake the senses and refresh the soul.
    I cannot prevail against my own desires, destruction is upon me.
    A voice cries from the four winds:
    “If only one could have held back the angel of death, you would have been spared, but none speak for thee.”
    I wake in tears, pleading for mercy.
    Hoping against hope and resting in restless faith for atonement.
    Complete me Lord!
    Make me pure that I may never see the day that I loose my will and restraint and unleash the devil in my soul!

    The sky. The dawn arrives with burning rays, the sun will raise the sleepers.
    Teach me yet again my love for life.
    Let my longing long for greater, yet hold me back to keep me safe.

  7. Peter B

    From a box of Azo I had lying around (one of our kids has frequent problems):

    Ask Daily

    You suspect you have urgency and Purpose.
    You suspect you have the source of pain.
    This is not harmful if you have an adverse reaction.

    You suspect you supplement facts.
    You suspect you value size.
    This is not harmful, but care should be taken.

    If pregnant or breastfeeding,
    a doctor
    will become reddish-orange in color.

    You suspect children 12 years and older
    may also contain corn starch.

  8. Matthew Benefiel

    I like that last line Peter.

    I don’t actually. Years ago I when I started my first stab a book I started a public facebook page for my writing, but only have a couple posts there. I’d try to manage it, but facebook doesn’t lend itself for copy and pasting, at least in my experiences. Though trying to dig through and find all the different lines would prove difficult, I think I pulled from at least 8, and one was a 35,000 word novella I’m still trying to finish (and towards the end of that). I suppose I could try and take a stab at updating my page this weekend though (minus the novella). The hard part will be sorting back through all the stuff I pulled from.

  9. Matthew Benefiel

    I guess I was wrong, not sure why I couldn’t cut and paste to facebook before. The bad is that facebook format is awful, so when I find time I need to get myself a real webpage, just never had a real reason to make one. The other bad is most of my poems have not seen an editing, and many weren’t meant to. I think I captured all but my Wandering Sailor Boy novella which it too long to post. I tried to list which poems were which lines but it got too confusing to read.

  10. Emily

    “After months of bitter
    debate, the conviction was growing that
    they were hurting.”

    I know, I know, I know this line. And the context only makes it niggle deeper into my soul.
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. DougMc

    Peter, I love the humor in your found poem. It’s very reminiscent of the dry wit that Dillard infuses in her’s, a sort of flirting with the absurd.

    Matthew, I’m intrigued by your idea of crafting a found poem from one’s own original source material. Kind of a double-distillation and reinterpretation of one’s own thoughts. Nicely executed.

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