found poetry

Congress 2016  – the annual hoedown of Canadian humanists and social scientists – just finished in Calgary.  What can I say? With over 70 different societies, it was, as usual, overwhelming. But it was also, as usual, invigorating. A writer friend imagined us all in caps and gowns bucking on broncos, but that might be going too far….

I spent three full days getting lost on campus, listening to keynote speakers and to conference attendees, vising the book fair, catching up with friends and colleagues, hawking my book at the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine’s strawberries and champagne book event, and, of course, presenting my own two papers – as part of Women’s and Gender Studies et Recherches Féministes and the Canadian Historical Association.

I also filled my notebook with thoughts, ideas, and snippets and hints of ideas … the shiny, glittery things that caught my attention in the course of all the papers I listened to. And as I re-read these notes, it occurred to me that they served as a sort of inadvertent archive for unintended readers. What would others make of these scribbled notes – of my magpie-like practices – claiming the shiny, bright bits from the ideas of others and working through my own lenses and thinkings?


one of the many public artworks on the grounds of the University of Calgary

I could have gone back to campus for more on the fourth day, but my brain was well and truly full. And so I sat down to review my conference notes: creating word clouds, revisiting specific wordings and phrasings, and looking for links and connections.

What emerged from this process of bricolage was a collage of words and ideas. And so, in the spirit of found poetry and the magpie impulse, and in response to William Cronon’s observation (printed on a colleague’s final slide) that “Where one chooses to begin and end a story profoundly alters its shape and meaning” (Cronon 1992, 1364), I offer a found poem, a patchwork of ideas drawn from some of the papers I heard and from my own responses to those papers. Where I have taken the text directly from a paper, I include a footnote that cites the presenter’s name and the title of their paper. Where the ideas are just words that clattered around in my own thoughts, I’ve included no sources at all.


Prince’s Island Park in downtown Calgary. A really great place to think.

A final disclaimer: the poem is partial; it cannot begin to capture all the themes and ideas explored…many of those won’t become clear until I’ve sifted through them for a while. But this is a beginning, an opening.

and an even more final disclaimer: I can’t ever figure out spacing on wordpress, particularly if it goes outside of conventional paragraph spacing. So I have put the poem in in .jpeg format.

we are not data_Page_1we are not data_Page_2



Cronon, William. “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative” The Journal of American History 78.4 (1992): 1347-1376


(c) 2016 Sonja Boon sboon @


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