Too many of us have a less than stellar introduction to poetry. Maybe we are forced to read poems that don’t speak to us and analyze them to death for English class. Or maybe we find a poet we like, only to be told by a snob in our creative writing class that he’s not a “real” poet. This is why blackout poetry is so exciting! You don’t need to torment yourself on a blank page for an hour, trying to find something that sounds good. But what exactly is blackout poetry and how is it made? Do you need to be a genius with an expensive MFA to succeed?
No! Blackout poetry is for everyone. Creating a concealing poem, also known as a fading poem, can be as simple or complex as you want. Want to release a poem in five minutes? You can do it! Want to spend the afternoon creating a multimedia work of art with deep literary meaning? You can do that too! The point of a blackout poem is not to create a perfect, polished piece, but rather to be spontaneous and see where your creativity takes you.
A Basic Occult Poem
To get an idea of what a simple occulting poem is and how to create it, discover the work of the poet and the artist Austin Cleonauthor of Fly like an artist and other books on art and creativity. Kleon takes newspaper pages and blacks out sections until only a few words and phrases remain, strewn across the page. Sometimes these words from a sentence or a miniature story. Other times they are more enigmatic, forming a poem that may not make any logical sense, but still has an eerie dreamlike beauty.
To create a blackout poem, take a black marker and a page of text from a newspaper or magazine. You can also photocopy a page from your favorite book if you want to remix that author’s words into your own creation.
Now start shading the text! You can go about it in two ways. You can start by lightly circling the words you do not will fade away, then darken everything around them. Or, you can start by blacking out the lines and ignoring all the words you come across and decide to keep. Each method will create a slightly different blackout poem, since your eye will be drawn to different words depending on how you go about it.
If you want to get really experimental, you can make two or three photocopies of a page of text and use those copies to create two or three different poems! Try. Are any words or phrases found in each poem, or are the poems completely unique? Do your poems end up telling different stories, or do you find that a theme begins to emerge in each of them? Either way, congratulations, you’ve just created some new literary works! You are officially a poet!
Get crafty with it
A Sharpie and a page of text are enough, but you don’t have to stop there. Many poets and artists use paint, art paper, collage, and other techniques to create erasure poems that have a visual component.
If you don’t know where to start, just grab a small brush and a few colors of paint. Go through the text just like you would with the marker, except you change paint colors every two minutes. You’ll end up with an erasing poem that has stripes, blocks, or flecks of color. Don’t worry too much about whether it’s “good” art or not. I promise you it’s beautiful.
Another method you can try is to take scissors and cut out the words and phrases you want to use. Glue them onto a fancy piece of paper (a sheet of patterned origami paper will work great) in roughly the same places they appeared in the original text. What does it look like? I bet it looks awesome.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, try drawing a picture in the spaces between the words you’ve saved. The design can speak to your poem in some way, or just be random. If you’re in doubt about your drawing skills, you can grab an image from the internet onto your tablet, lay it flat on a table, and then lay your paper on it to trace the image. Or you can go abstract with swirls or geometric shapes. When you’re done, hang it on your wall!
Blackout poetry is fun, easy, and satisfying. Good writing!
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