Blackout Poetry: Definition & Guide for Poets

Posted on May 17, 2023

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In a world saturated with information overload, where every inch of paper and digital screen seems filled with words, one artistic form has emerged to celebrate the power of silence and the beauty of absence.

Welcome to the mesmerizing realm of blackout poetry, where words become sculptures, and the act of erasure becomes an act of creation.

This guide to blackout poetry covers:

  1. What is blackout poetry?
  2. Origins and evolution of poetic blackouts
  3. The process of creating blackout poetry
  4. How do constraints serve the aims of blackout poets?
  5. Blackout poetry as a form of social commentary
  6. What is digital blackout poetry?
  7. Is blackout poetry accessible?
  8. How does blackout poetry relate to existing texts?
  9. How does blackout poetry stand out in the digital world?

Let’s start by checking out the basic definition of blackout poetry.

What is blackout poetry?

Blackout poetry, also known as erasure poetry, is a unique form of artistic expression that involves creating poems by selectively erasing or covering existing text from a printed page.

The process involves choosing specific words or phrases from the original text and blacking out the rest, leaving behind a transformed, visually striking type of poem that emerges from the remnants of the original work.

Origins and evolution of poetic blackouts

The roots of blackout poetry can be traced back to the Dada and Surrealist art movements of the early 20th century, where artists experimented with found objects and collages.

However, the modern resurgence of blackout poetry can be attributed to the work of Austin Kleon, who gained widespread recognition with his book “Newspaper Blackout” published in 2010. Kleon’s inventive approach to transforming newspaper articles into poetic works of art inspired a new generation of artists to explore the potential of blackout poetry.

The process of creating blackout poetry

The process of creating blackout poetry is a delicate dance between reading and visualizing.

Artists often scan a printed page, whether from a book, newspaper, or magazine, seeking words or phrases that catch their attention. These words are then meticulously preserved, while the remaining text is obscured through techniques such as drawing or painting over it with black ink or markers.

The resulting poem, emerging from the blank spaces left by the erased text, can be a profound reflection of the artist’s own interpretation and emotions, often inviting viewers to contemplate the interplay between absence and presence.

How do constraints serve the aims of blackout poets?

One of the fascinating aspects of blackout poetry lies in the constraints it imposes on the artist.

Rather than starting with a blank page, the artist works within the confines of an existing text, embracing its limitations as a wellspring of creativity. This limitation sparks the imagination and forces the artist to uncover hidden narratives and themes that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Plus, the act of erasure imbues each poem with a sense of mystery, inviting readers to ponder the words and lines that lie beneath the veil of darkness.

In this way, blackout poetry provides a unique experience, one where readers are encouraged to participate actively in the creative process.

Blackout poetry as a form of social commentary

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, blackout poetry has become a powerful tool for social commentary.

Artists often choose source materials that reflect significant social or political issues, allowing them to shed light on and challenge prevailing narratives.

By selectively highlighting or obscuring words, they can redirect the original text’s meaning, sparking thought-provoking discussions on topics ranging from identity and inequality to climate change and activism.

What is digital blackout poetry?

As technology continues to shape the creative landscape, blackout poetry has found a new home in the digital realm.

With the rise of social media platforms and image-editing software, artists have embraced digital techniques to create intricate and visually stunning blackout poems.

This digital transformation has also made blackout poetry more accessible to a wider audience, allowing people from diverse backgrounds to engage with and share their own creations.

Is blackout poetry accessible?

Blackout poetry has transcended traditional boundaries, welcoming individuals from all walks of life to express themselves through this unique art form. It requires no special training or artistic background, making it a medium accessible to everyone with a curious mind and a desire to create.

Whether as a meditative practice, a form of self-expression, or a means of engaging with the world around us, blackout poetry offers a myriad of possibilities for individuals to unlock their inner artist. It encourages us to slow down, immerse ourselves in the words of others, and reimagine them in ways that resonate with our own experiences and emotions.

Blackout poetry not only provides a means of creative expression but also offers a therapeutic outlet.

As we carefully select and erase words, we engage in a meditative process that allows us to focus on the present moment and detach from the constant noise of the world.

It becomes a form of self-discovery, as we explore our thoughts and emotions through the act of creation.

How does blackout poetry relate to existing texts?

Blackout poetry fosters a deeper connection with literature and the written word. By engaging with existing texts, we gain a heightened appreciation for language, syntax, and the power of storytelling. We become active participants in the narrative, reshaping it into something entirely new and personal.

The beauty of blackout poetry lies not only in the final product but also in the journey of exploration and experimentation.

It encourages us to embrace mistakes and imperfections, for even accidental marks can lead to unexpected revelations. Each stroke of the marker or brush is an invitation to surrender to the artistic process, allowing intuition and spontaneity to guide us.

Examples of prominent blackout poets

Often, the easiest way to fall in love with a particular type of poetry is to find a poet whose work you really admire.

In that spirit, here is a list of five prominent blackout poets:

  1. Austin Kleon: A New York Times bestselling author, Austin Kleon introduced many to blackout poetry through his “Newspaper Blackout” poems, which repurpose newspaper articles into creative and often insightful verse.
  2. Tom Phillips: An artist whose project “A Humument” began in the 1960s, Phillips transforms pages of a Victorian novel into visual and textual art, combining his blackout technique with colorful illustrations.
  3. Derrick Brown: A well-known poet in his own right, Brown has used blackout poetry techniques to produce evocative pieces, exploring themes of love, loss, and humanity.
  4. Mary Ruefle: While perhaps more famous for her traditional poetry, Ruefle’s “erasures” or blackout poems have been celebrated for their subtle depth and the transformative nature of her approach.
  5. Jenni B. Baker: Integrating both the visual and the textual, Baker creates poems from pages of novels, most notably her project with David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” giving a new interpretative layer to existing narratives.

Check out their poetic blackout creations, and they might just inspire your own!

How does blackout poetry stand out in the digital world?

In an increasingly digital world, blackout poetry offers a tactile and tangible experience. It reconnects us with the physicality of the written word, as we interact directly with printed pages, feeling the texture beneath our fingertips and witnessing the transformation unfold before our eyes.

The act of crossing out, of marking, and of transforming a text into a work of art engages multiple senses, enhancing our connection with the creative process.

Through blackout poetry, we also discover the power of silence and negative space. It is in the absence of words that new meanings emerge.

The empty spaces left behind after erasure invite contemplation and reflection, allowing readers to fill in the gaps with their own interpretations and experiences.

In this way, blackout poetry transcends language barriers, as the visual nature of the art form speaks a universal language of emotions and ideas.

Also, blackout poetry serves as a reminder of the limitless potential for creativity in our everyday lives.

Are you ready to create your own blackout poetry?

It encourages us to view the world through a poetic lens, seeking beauty and inspiration in the most unexpected places. It teaches us to find poetry in the mundane, to appreciate the cadence of everyday conversations, and to uncover the extraordinary within the ordinary.

To summarise, blackout poetry is an enchanting artistic form that breathes new life into existing texts, offering a fresh perspective and creating a visual symphony of words.

It invites us to slow down, to embrace constraints, and to unleash our creativity. Whether engaging with traditional printed materials or exploring the digital realm, blackout poetry provides a platform for self-expression, social commentary, and personal exploration.

Why not find an existing text, and start experimenting with creating your own blackout poetry?

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