When you start writing a poem, the first thing you do is add words to a page. Obviously, right? But what if I told you there is a type of poetry that is formed by removing words? Blackout poetry, a kind of verse, is created by coloring over, or “blacking out,” words in a magazine article or a page from a book or newspaper. It combines multiple art forms, such as drawing and writing, in a modern way, taking the old and turning it into something new.
While many types of poetry are confined to rhyme patterns, certain amounts of syllables per line, or only so many stanzas, with blackout poetry, the sky is the limit. “But what is blackout poetry?” you may ask. According to Robert Lee Brewer, “A blackout poem is when a poet takes a marker (usually black marker) to already established text—like in a newspaper—and starts redacting words until a poem is formed.” Unusually, in this form of poetry, you use other people’s words rather than your own. You can use any page from a newspaper, magazine, book, etc. and create your own poem.
The creator of this poem, Austin Kleon, kept it simple, but yet we, as the readers, still get a clear message. There are no length limits besides the height of the page you choose. Some have chosen to write poems using literally only two words, while others almost make an abbreviated form of the page by blocking out unnecessary words or phrases. Also, notice that the word “but” has a line in between the “b” and the “u.” This is because it was actually a different word before, probably “about.” Using the freedom blackout poetry gives, you can use letters from different words to create the one you need. And sometimes, if spaced strategically, it becomes a purposeful effect that draws out the word. While Kleon’s poem is almost somewhat comedic, and the intent is clear with the thorough shading over unnecessary words, others take a more artistic approach. For example, Liz, last name unknown, drew this poem:
As you can see, she used arrows pointing to consecutive words. She did this for an artistic effect, but I highly recommend refraining from using arrows to point to words out of order. When writing blackout poetry, keep the words you are using in the same order you found them. Having arrows pointing to different sentences and paragraphs to guide the reader’s eyes can be confusing and ruin any image you are painting.
The best way to find inspiration within a written piece is to skim it. While you are skimming, write down words that stand out to you. You can choose things that inspire you, give you a specific feeling, seem important, however you want to do it. And once again, make sure you keep all the words in the order of which they are found in the page. After you have your “important” words on a separate paper, you can cross off words there that you don’t want to use. Some people like to then carefully read through the work they are using as their base and write as they go, using their page of stand-out words. Others like to go through and highlight or circle the words they like in pencil and then fill in the rest. There are still other methods some people like to use; find what suits you best. Once you’ve circled all the words you know you’re going to use, circle or box them in dark ink, and then decorate it with drawings that relate to your poem. Or, if you want to keep it simple and just blackout the rest of the unnecessary words, you can then do that. Below, I’ve included some cool blackout poems others have created for inspiration.
Blackout poetry can definitely be a challenge, but the product is rewarding. It’s a good way to practice your poetry skills, contemplate life while blacking out, and express your ideas and feelings through drawing. I hope that this year I have inspired all my readers to explore new types of art and poetry and to write their own poems. And maybe, seniors, you could decorate your graduation cap with your own blackout poetry!
Offbeat Poet. “The History of Blackout Poetry.” Medium. June 24, 2019, medium.com/offbeat-poetry/the-history-of-blackout-poetry-ca8985f04c35
Brewer, Robert Lee. “Erasure and Blackout Poems: Poetic Forms.” Writers Digest. November 21, 2014, www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/erasure-and-blackout-poems-poetic-forms
Kleon, Austin. “A Brief History of My Newspaper Blackout Poems.” Austin Kleon. April 29, 2014, austinkleon.com/2014/04/29/a-brief-history-of-my-newspaper-blackout-poems/
Potash, Besty. “The Easy Guide to Blackout Poetry.” Spark Creativity! www.nowsparkcreativity.com/2018/10/the-easy-guide-to-blackout-poetry.html
Trowbridge, Cheryl. www.teachkidsart.net/the-art-of-blackout-poetry/