Emily delves into the form of blackout poetry and discovers it might be the perfect way to induce creativity.
The name might sound dull, but blackout poetry (or erasure poetry) is anything but. If you’re a writer and haven’t tried writing blackout poetry before, it might just be the form that’s missing from your repertoire. If you’re a reader, you might be surprised at how thought-provoking such succinct pieces can be. Either way, there’s bound to be something you will love about the form.
So, what is blackout poetry?
As the name suggests, a blackout poem is where an author takes an existing text and ‘blacks out’ some of the words, creating a poem with the words that are left. Often, there is a link between the existing text and the new poem – for example, the poem could reinforce or subvert the message of the existing text – though there doesn’t have to be.
What does this look like in the flesh? Or, uh, on the page…
There’s more than one way you can create a blackout poem, but let’s take a look at blacking language out.
Here’s your original text:
The Surrey New Writers Festival
is going to be an amazing event
and I hope you’re able to attend.
And here’s a poem you could make from it:
rrey N ew Writers Festival
is going to
be an amazing event and I hope you’re able to attend.
Morbid? Yes. Creative? Also yes.
Sounds cool, but why should I write blackout poetry?
Since there can be a link between the poem and the existing text, blackout poetry can make for social and political writing. Let’s say you’ve read a novel and absolutely detest how the author has represented a certain group of people. You could pick a page where the novelist’s representation is particularly odious and strategically block out words until you’ve created a poem that highlights it. One way you could do this is by leaving the novelist’s negative language visible in your poem. Or if you’ve read a magazine article celebrating a company’s efforts in sustainability, but you think it’s just a bunch of greenwashing, you can create a poem to reflect that; one way to achieve this could be by leaving the sustainability areas visible and then blocking out some words to make the poem end with something sarcastic.
Of course, you don’t have to write something socially or politically motivated. Perhaps you’ve simply resonated with a theme in the book you’ve read and want to create a poem with a similar atmosphere. Creating a love poem on a page of your partner’s favourite romance novel is a unique gift they’ll appreciate, for example (though we’d recommend photocopying that page so you don’t graffiti over their book!). And there doesn’t have to be a link between your poem and the text, either. Simply noticing some language on a page that would work well in a blackout poem can result in some great poetry.
Artistic as well as a creative writer? Blacking out the text’s words is just one way you can approach a poem – you can block out the words with drawings, colour and artwork. Again, it’s totally up to you whether you want the artwork to link to the text and your poem or not.
Writing blackout poetry is also an effective remedy for writer’s block. On a day when all your ideas have dried up, trying blackout poetry is a good exercise because you already have source material there. Being confined to a set of words can be easier than deciding on language yourself. You’re forced to work with what you’ve got, which can squeeze some ideas out of you – ever notice how a strict deadline forces you to work quickly and procrastinate less? Writing in the blackout form is similar to that.
Also, reading the text and noticing words that you’d like to include in a poem, or finding part of the text you disagree with, are good prompts to get you writing. And sometimes, just getting something down on the page is half the battle.
Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re going to publish your blackouts or make them public online or on social media – basically anything other than personal use for your own eyes – you should be careful (especially if you’re trying to make money from it). You don’t want to be accused of things like copyright infringement and libel. I’m not an expert on what you can and can’t do with someone else’s texts and blackout poetry, so make sure to do your own research first. And it’s always good practice to credit the sources you’ve used. Better to be safe!
What if I want to read some blackout poetry?
A quick Google Images or Pinterest search for ‘blackout poetry’ and ‘erasure poetry’ will bring up countless examples. They’re especially good for finding poems that include artwork. If you’d prefer a book of poems, then Distance Between: Blackout Poetry and Art by Stacia Leigh also includes artwork with poetry. Another book of blackout poetry is Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon. https://austinkleon.com/category/newspaper-blackout-poems/ Check out some blackout poems on Austin Kleon’s blog
So, blackout poetry is an out-of-the-box form, the brevity of which can make for some deep and insightful poems – poems that stay with you. You can create blackout poems that are linked to the texts on which you’ve written them or ones that aren’t connected to their text at all and get creative with how you’ve blocked out some words using colour and art.
This post on the Writers Digest website is just one of the many sources published on blackout and erasure poetry.
If you’ve already participated in our Elfchen Challenge (more details on our Twitter and Instagram), why not try blackout poetry next? If you’re after a challenge, how about creating one on an unexpected source, like a copy of a restaurant menu or a TV magazine? And if you want the ultimate challenge, go ahead and create a blackout poem using this blog post!
About the author – Emily Wootton
I am in my final year of English Literature with Creative Writing (undergraduate). I enjoy writing dystopian fiction and poetry, and reading fantasy and dystopian fiction – one of my favourite books being Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale! In my spare time, I’m practicing painting and digital art.
Enjoyed this blog? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or start a discussion on our Twitter and Instagram: