Blackout poems utilize a text written by another author. The new writer or poet takes a writing implement, commonly a black marker, and blacks out sections of the text, leaving only a few remaining words. Depending on the poet, they can be more or less selective about the words they leave visible. Most poets want to make a cohesive and logical poem with the words they find. But, other writers utilize a more random and instinctual approach to blackout poetry.
Blackout poetry emerged as a style of writing in the early to mid-1900s. It was utilized by the Dadaists, along with collaging, cut-up poems, and more in their various experimentations. These authors sought to challenge traditional definitions of what poetry is and how it can be created.
Explore Blackout Poetry
Blackout Poetry Definition
A blackout poem is a piece of writing that is created through erasure. A writer takes a black marker and marks through entire words, sentences, and paragraphs in a found text. The words that they leave visible create a poem.
For example, a writer might select a newspaper article and erase everything but a few words per paragraph. When one reads these remaining words from top to bottom they create a poem.
Blackout poetry is a form of found poetry. This style of writing includes various ways in which authors take other writers’ words and rework them into their own verse. Unlike other forms of found poetry, this form requires a physical text to work off of. As mentioned above, this could be a newspaper article, or it could be a page from a novel, another poem, a letter, a diary entry, or any other written work that one can physically mark on.
Examples of Blackout Poetry
Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon
Newspaper Blackout is one of the best-known collections of blackout poems. It was published in 2010 and was an instant bestseller. Readers around the world were inspired by Kleon’s creative approach to writing poetry. Since the book was published, Kleon has spent time teaching his technique through lectures, workshops, and videos. Consider Kleon’s video on how to write a newspaper blackout poem below:
How To Write Blackout Poetry
While creating any type of poem can feel daunting, there are only a few steps one needs to follow in order to make a blackout poem. Below, readers can explore these steps, which can be interpreted in different ways.
- Find a text — The first thing that one needs to do is to find an old book, magazine, newspaper article, diary entry, or any other physical piece of writing that one wants to work with. After creating one’s blackout poem, the piece of writing will be irrevocably changed. This means that one needs to choose something that they don’t mind altering or destroying.
- Read the passage —Next, you need to read the piece of writing you’ve chosen and keep an eye out for important words or phrases that you might use in your poem. You could loosely circle these with a pencil or take note of them on another piece of paper.
- Mark out what you don’t want in your poem — The next and most important step is to use a black marker, such as a sharpie, and mark through the parts of the text that you are not interested in. As you “erase” entire sentences or paragraphs, the pieces of text that you do want in your poem are going to remain.
- Read the remaining words — when you finish erasing everything that you do not want in your poem, read what you have left. There may be other words that you feel are unnecessary for the piece of writing that you’re creating. If you have erased too much, it may be necessary to reconsider what you wanted the poem to say and utilize what remains in a new way.
- Photograph or scan your poem to share — Unlike other forms of poetry, blackout poems need to be scanned or photographed in order to share them. If you want other people to read your poem, now is the time to photograph it or scan it into the computer and share the image with other people.
A blackout poem is created by using a dark marker to remove elements of a pre-written text. By marking through words and entire sentences, one leaves behind the words that form the blackout poem.
No, like all poetry, blackout poems can make as much or little sense as the writer wants. Perhaps, some lines of the poem are clearer, while others require more interpretation.
The only rule when writing a blackout poem is to use another text and remove elements of it. That which is left behind is the poem. It is up to the author which text they choose to work on or how much they want to leave readable. A poem might be two words long or several sentences long.
Related Literary Terms
- Experimentalism: one part of modernism and postmodernist literature. Writers take risks, try strange new techniques, and attempt to create something that’s never been seen before.
- Postmodernism: a literary movement that began in the late-20th century. It was a reaction to modernism after World War II.
- Confessional Poetry: a style of poetry that is personal, often making use of a first-person narrator. It is a branch of Postmodernism that emerged in the US in the 1950s.
- Found Poetry: a type of poem that’s created using someone else’s words, phrases, or structure.
- Contemporary Period: refers to written works that were created after World War II. Prior to this, was the modernist period.
- Dadaism: an art and literary movement in Europe during the 20th century. It was a reaction to the senselessness of war during the early 1900s.
- Read: Five Tips for Creating Blackout Poetry
- Read: Literary Modernism
- Watch: Dadaism – Can everything be art?