"Art Spoken Here," proclaims a sign in Judy Kleinberg's home studio in Bellingham, and indeed, Kleinberg creates art as she writes poetry.
Her work, dubbed "found poetry," uses short blocks of text cut from magazines and organized into readable collage. The results are concise, powerful poems - witty, poignant and surprising - that are also beautiful to the eye.
"The found poetry is an extension of my lifelong interest in collage," says Kleinberg, who holds a master's degree in design. "As long as I can remember, I've done collage with images and words."
Kleinberg's design specialty in college was textiles, and she worked as a fiber artist for 20 years. Three years ago, she noticed that words on a magazine page sometimes fell into an order the original designer hadn't intended, so she began to clip them and craft them into poems that are an extension of her background in visual art.
"I don't see words as separate from the visual collage," she says. "The way the words look on the paper is integral to the poem."
For the poems, she looks for large text in magazines that contain two- or three-line stacks of words. She clips a stack of words and places the block of text into a category on her spacious work table. Categories might include seasons, weather, memory, water, birds and feathers and nests, and light, night and stars.
"I often spend two hours a day at this, averaging 10 to 15 hours a week. I'm looking for larger text: headlines, subheads, captions, pull quotes. I never use anything that's already a poem or story.
"I'm looking for an accidental stack of words that's completely removed from its original meaning. I often don't know yet what it means. I'll see that chunk, cut it out and save it."
For example, a magazine ad for Acura cars originally reads "With this many amenities, your family will think it comes with room service." Kleinberg sees the word "amenities" above the word "comes." She looks within those words, and clips out "amen" above "me."
"I don't know what that means yet," she says. "I'll find other words that go with it, and it will take shape as a poem."
Scanning a design magazine, Kleinberg sees a subhead that reads "This combo is perfect for those who waver on style." Kleinberg quickly picks out "perfect" above "wave," and soon "perfect wave" is added to a category on her work table.
Does she start with a thought and find clippings to support it, or start with clippings, and let them form the thought?
"It almost never works to start with the thought," she explains. "That works for ransom-note poetry, but it's extremely rare to find the stack of words I need on a specific topic. So I browse, scanning for words that catch my eye."
Kleinberg has a thousand word chunks on her table. She looks them over, eventually finding words that connect with other bits she has saved.
"There's a lot of shuffling - this first, or that first - and finally, I glue."
Kleinberg glues the word chunks into a poem, scans it, and publishes it on her blog. Some have been published in poetry journals and in The Bellingham Herald.
So far, Kleinberg has created more than 600 found poems.
"They're getting better, more poetic," she says. "For a long time, what I was seeing was clever bunches of words. I'm less interested in clever now, more interested in expressing something poetic.
"It's an obsession. There's really no other word for it."
To see "found poems" by Judy Kleinberg, go to chocolateisaverb.wordpress.com.
Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy is a Bellingham freelance writer.