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  • Writer's pictureNazifa Islam

Virginia Woolf Found Poems in DIAGRAM

I have long wanted to have poems published in DIAGRAM. It's such a great journal and I've always thought that the work they publish is perpetually innovative, remarkable, and really interesting. After a few bouts of submitting, I'm finally fortunate enough to have two Virginia Woolf Found Poems in Issue 20.3! Check out "She Admired the Dark" and "Us"!

What makes this publication all the better for me is that my found poems are published alongside two poems from one of my very first creative writing teachers, Keith Taylor. I met Keith my second year at the University of Michigan where he correctly predicted that my first publication would be a poem I brought into workshop titled "When the World Gets Wise." It's slightly surreal to have my poems appear in the same issue as his.

"She Admired the Dark" is a found poem drawn from Mrs. Dalloway. The paragraph I used to write it is all about the character Sally Seton, who is painted so vividly by Woolf as an important figure from Clarissa Dalloway's youth. She's a much more overtly emotional character than Clarissa, but the fact that Clarissa is so drawn to her and still thinks of her decades after they last spent real time together reveals a lot about Clarissa. This poem was relatively easy to write; Sally is exceedingly vibrant and this paragraph is full of compelling, bright, and expressive language. I didn't have to really dig to find the poem; it largely seemed to organically emerge.

"Us" comes from a paragraph of The Waves that is all about memory and a relationship. The paragraph really lent itself to what is essentially a break up poem. Reading the paragraph, I knew that I wanted to use it to write about lost love.

Here are the two paragraphs with the words I used for each in red:

"She Admired the Dark"

"She sat on the floor—that was her first impression of Sally—she sat on the floor with her arms round her knees, smoking a cigarette. Where could it have been? The Mannings? The Kinloch-Jones's? At some party (where, she could not be certain), for she had a distinct recollection of saying to the man she was with, "Who is THAT?" And he had told her, and said that Sally's parents did not get on (how that shocked her—that one's parents should quarrel!). But all that evening she could not take her eyes off Sally. It was an extraordinary beauty of the kind she most admired, dark, large-eyed, with that quality which, since she hadn't got it herself, she always envieda sort of abandonment, as if she could say anything, do anything; a quality much commoner in foreigners than in Englishwomen. Sally always said she had French blood in her veins, an ancestor had been with Marie Antoinette, had his head cut off, left a ruby ring. Perhaps that summer she came to stay at Bourton, walking in quite unexpectedly without a penny in her pocket, one night after dinner, and upsetting poor Aunt Helena to such an extent that she never forgave her. There had been some quarrel at home. She literally hadn't a penny that night when she came to themhad pawned a brooch to come down. She had rushed off in a passion. They sat up till all hours of the night talking. Sally it was who made her feel, for the first time, how sheltered the life at Bourton was. She knew nothing about sex—nothing about social problems. She had once seen an old man who had dropped dead in a field—she had seen cows just after their calves were born. But Aunt Helena never liked discussion of anything (when Sally gave her William Morris, it had to be wrapped in brown paper). There they sat, hour after hour, talking in her bedroom at the top of the house, talking about life, how they were to reform the world. They meant to found a society to abolish private property, and actually had a letter written, though not sent out. The ideas were Sally's, of course—but very soon she was just as excited—read Plato in bed before breakfast; read Morris; read Shelley by the hour."


"'I rose. I had done my breakfast. There was the whole day before us, and as it was fine, tender, non-committal, we walked through the Park to the Embankment, along the Strand to St Paul's, then to the shop where I bought an umbrella, always talking, and now and then stopping to look. But can this last? I said to myself, by a lion in Trafalgar Square, by the lion seen once and for ever;—so I revisit my past life, scene by scene; there is an elm tree, and there lies Percival. For ever and ever, I swore. Then darted in the usual doubt. I clutched your hand. You left me. The descent into the Tube was like death. We were cut up, we were dissevered by all those faces and the hollow wind that seemed to roar down there over desert boulders. I sat staring in my own room. By five I knew that you were faithless. I snatched the telephone and the buzz, buzz, buzz of its stupid voice in your empty room battered my heart down, when the door opened and there you stood. That was the most perfect of our meetings. But these meetings, these partings, finally destroy us.'"

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