Blackout Poetry

The principle idea behind blackout poetry, also called newspaper blackout and erasure poetry, is the poet takes a document, newspaper clipping, magazine article, etc. and transforms it by blacking out most of the words. This changes the meaning into a new art form. Blackout Poetry can help with writer’s block, besides giving non-poets a creative outlet.

Check out Austin Kleon’s book Newspaper Blackout for his story on how he discovered Blackout Poetry. If you are interested in writing poetry, our esources Litfinder and Safari (search for poetry), have some books on the subject. The library has many books on poetry for your enjoyment.

Materials:

newspaper or magazine
or an old book that you don’t want anymore and can’t resell
pencil
eraser
black marker

Step 1: Select a page from the newspaper, a magazine, or an old book you are going to throw out.

Step 2: Scan the page for an anchor word or short phrase that stands out to you. You will develop your poem around this word or phrase. Circle the word.

underlined anchor word on sample magazine page

Step 3: Read the rest of the page. Use a pencil to underline words that connect with the anchor word and that resonate with you. Try to space the words you underline around the page with no more than 3 words in a line.

close-up of article with words underlined

Step 4: List all the words you have circled on a separate piece of paper in the order they appear on the page.

Step 5: Read the words in order to see if they make sense. Eliminate words that don’t work. Don’t change the order of the words. Add words from the original page if you need to. Again don’t change the order of the words as your poem must flow on the original page of text. Don’t forget punctuation.

Step 6: When you are satisfied with the poem you have created, return to the original page of text and erase the underlined words you eliminated and underline words or phrases you added.

Step 7: Use the black marker to black out the words on the page of text that were not underlined. Leaving the underlined words creates the poem on the page.
 

magazine page with black marker covering words not use in the poem

Sample Poem:

Governments try to persuade the world --
Years of excesses like other countries issues
Managed Central Bank became holder of all money.
To create a monopoly on trade the French government
allowed Louisiana to trade along the Mississippi.
People could invest in the company paper.

The Mississippi Company linked currency problems
for those who farm the land.
The French government continued with
misleading messages about gold and silver.
Successful, prices rose.

Meanwhile, the working French public
convinced their tiny 10% deposit meant more
began to exchange their money for gold and silver.

Shares tumbled and panic ensued.