Writing

How to Write Blackout Poetry and Erasure Poetry

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 26, 2019 • 3 min read

Poetry is one of our most ancient forms of creative writing, used to convey strong emotions, striking imagery and ideas about the world. Certain forms of poetry, like the haiku or sonnet, have been around for centuries. Other styles, like blackout and erasure poetry, are recent developments that represent the constant evolution of an age-old art form.

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What Is Erasure Poetry?

Erasure poetry is a type of found poetry in which the poet takes an existing source text and creates their own poem by erasing, redacting, or otherwise obscuring the words in the original text. The resulting text of the final poem can be arranged into lines or stanzas, or it can remain as it appeared on the original page of text.

5 Examples of Erasure Poetry

Doris Cross is thought to be one of the first to employ the erasure technique in poetry with her 1965 “Dictionary Columns.” Other well-known erasure poems include:

  1. A Humument by Tom Phillips
  2. Radi Os by Ronald Johnson
  3. Nets by Jen Bervin
  4. I Am Not Famous Anymore by Erin Dorney
  5. The ms of my kin by Janet Holmes (adapted from the poems of Emily Dickinson)

What Is Blackout Poetry?

Blackout poetry is a subcategory of erasure poetry. In a blackout poem, the poet uses a black marker, permanent marker, or Sharpie as a redaction tool, blacking out the original text until a new work is formed. The combination of new meaning derived from the remaining text as well as the aesthetic quality of the redactions create a type of visual poetry. Blackout poets often use old books, newspaper articles, or pieces of paper to make blackout poetry.

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3 Examples of Blackout Poetry

Notable blackout poems include:

  1. A Humument by Tom Phillips (which features elaborate painted designs on the pages of a Victorian novel)
  2. Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon (a collection of newspaper blackout poems)
  3. The O Mission Repo by Travis Macdonald (modified from the 9/11 commission report)

How to Write a Blackout Poem

Blackout poetry can be a great way to open up new creative writing pathways, work through writer’s block, or begin an original poetry collection. Here are some simple steps you can follow to create your own blackout poems:

  1. Choose your source material. Your source material can be anything: a non-fiction book, a magazine article, a copy of yesterday’s copy of the New York Times, or even your middle school yearbook. All that matters is that your source material has plenty of text to redact and manipulate.
  2. Examine the page. Look at the text. See if there are any words or phrases that jump out at you. It might be helpful to identify one or two anchor words—that is, words that seem particularly striking or meaningful for you to build your blackout poetry project around. Create a box around your anchor words to separate them from the rest of the text.
  3. Identify connecting words. Once you have your anchor words, identify some other words that relate to the theme or idea of your anchors. It may also be helpful to select some connecting words, like conjunctions or prepositions, to unify your thoughts. Box those words as well.
  4. Black out the rest. Now it’s time to make your mark. Use a Sharpie or black pen to black out all the words that aren’t your anchors or connectors. You can use straight lines, wavy lines, or thin connection lines. If you see your poetry as more of a visual arts piece, feel free to use your redaction pen to color in shapes or designs. You’re well on your way to creating your very own poetry journal of blackout poems.

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