Institute News

Inside IWitness: "Found Poetry"

Inside IWitness is an ongoing series that will profile each activity in IWitness, along with a clip featured in the activity and a teacher who uses IWitness in his or her classroom.

Testimony can be intense, heart-wrenching, and emotional. It can include stories that are harrowing or even hopeful. And it can also be poetic.

In the Found Poetry IWitness activity, students have the opportunity to create poems from testimonies in the Visual History Archive. Rather than write their own poems, students create “found poetry”: discovering poetic language within a survivor’s own words and then re-arranging it in the form of a poem. As an example, an excerpt from Ellis Lewin’s testimony becomes a powerful found poem about arrival at Auschwitz. Another poem from Rose Kaplovitz's testimony describes liberation:

Liberation (testimony of Rose Kaplovitz)

May 9th 
No Nazi guards 
No calls for work
No beating, no whistle for work, 
nothing.  
Completely still.  
Frightening 
Out of the ordinary 
what's happening?
Afraid to move.  
The girls approached the gate 
and moved it open.  
The war has ended.  
The girls ran towards the gate; ran into the street.  
Liberation Day 
Jumping on top of the tanks; on top of their trucks, 
Kissing them, loving them, hugging them.  
They were our liberators.


Students are then encouraged to search through IWitness for a segment of testimony that they feel contains evocative, descriptive language that they feel might make a goof found poem. Then, they begin crafting their poem, choosing the most detailed and sensory words to include in the poem.

Once their poems are complete, students create videos that include the clip of testimony that inspired them and the text of their poem. They may also wish to reflect on how the activity made them aware of the poetic quality of language from testimony and what they hope their poem teaches or illuminates for their audience.