How to Use Blackout Poetry in Your Own Work

A guide in how blackout poetry works and how you can use it to your own advantage as a writer.

Image Credit: 
© 2019 Kirsty Louise Farley / Used With Permission

Blackout poetry is a modern form of poetry where the creator uses any form of already-published text (referred to as found text) and a black marker, along with their own creative intuition.

© 2019 Kirsty Louise Farley / Used With Permission

The process involves leaving the parts of the text that the poet wants to keep and blacking out the parts that they don’t. Often this creative approach is used on newspapers, which often produces very interesting poetic pieces. However, this technique can be applied to any found text.

It is important to note that permission is required for the use or alteration of any text currently in copyright, including newsprint. I would recommend using writing which is no longer in copyright to avoid any potential legal issues.

To illustrate the process, I will take page 721 of the Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

I started by reading the text and drawing boxes around parts that I liked, felt drawn to, or found interesting, before blacking-out everything else.

As I went, marked, and redacted, I ignored the split between the two poems, along with the headings, and instead only worked with the text on the page itself.

What I ended up with is as follows:

© 2019 Kirsty Louise Farley / Used With Permission

This is a relatively simple example of blackout poetry, whereas some poets and artists have created more complex images using this process by including text placement along with drawings and doodles. In fact, some poets have even created whole books using this process—notably Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon, a poet and a cartoonist.

There are products available in relation to blackout poetry that have more of a commodity value, such as the book Make Blackout Poetry: Turn These Pages into Poems. Personally, I think that things like this devalue the artistic process. However, they can help poets see what blackout poetry produces so that they may produce an original piece.

Whilst the phrases I have taken from Edgar Allan Poe may work on their own, if I take the above example of blackout poetry as a first draft, it can then be worked into something more original, for instance:

Besides my innate love of contradiction
if a poet in pursuit
has studied very little of his part
endued with neither soul
nor sense
nor art
then luminous eyes
shall find her own sweet name
amongst nestling lies.

They hold a treasure that must be worn
at heart
three eloquent words oft uttered
by poets
and like the knight
you will not read the riddle
though you do your best.

This process can be continued until you are happy with the outcome. Workshops and feedback from other writers are usually the most effective way to transform a blackout poem.

Blackout poetry is a very modern form of poetry and some poets and artists have criticised it as a form that is a lazy way of creating poetry. However I think it’s clear that blackout poetry can be used as a tool to create poems out of one’s comfort zone, to develop something new and to also just have fun. Whether they end up published, or you use them just to inspire, there is nothing wrong with working your creative muscles in a different way.

Kirsty-Louise is a published author and poet with a BA hons in English Literature. Working as a Secondary English Teacher, dog walks on the coast, and reading books pass her time in Ramsgate & Margate.

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