How to Create Blackout Poetry
Take a newspaper or magazine article page of text and mark out most of the words. The unmarked words will make a freeform poem. For some examples, see Newspaper Blackout Poems by Austin Kleon. If his name looks familiar, it might be because he's the author of the bestselling book How to Steal Like an Artist.
1. Add designs or illustrations
Some poets also make elaborate designs or illustrations to go with their poems. Do a Google Image search for blackout poetry to see examples like this:
2. Use colors other than black (and different art supplies)
You can also choose another color instead of black to mark out the words. Instead of a marker or pen, use acrylic or watercolor paints, washi tape, colored pencils, or other art supplies. With my poems, I used watered down acrylic paints to mark out the words and a thin ink pen to outline the words I wanted to keep.
3. Choose an unusual page of text
While a newspaper or magazine article is a common source of this type of poetry, I wondered if you could truly make poetry from any type of writing. To find out, I chose some random pages from an academic paper titled Air Pollution Research in Britain c. 1955-c.2000. It turned out to be a seminar transcript, so it included a mix of scientific and ordinary language which ended up making the poems a little more approachable.
4. Play with the finished poem in text form
With blackout poetry, the finished form is the sheet itself with the marked out words. There's nothing that says you need to stop there! You can move into the realm of found poetry by adding punctuation, capitalization, line breaks, and even adding or rearranging the words. (See the blog post on Found vs. Blackout Poetry on the differences between the two.)
One of My Blackout Poems
High levels of exposed, alarming submarine air.
We had to adapt gradually,
We hoiked in charm at the laboratory,
Two parts per million in the outside air,
Slightly ambient, of course.
Clearly, accidental suicide.
- National Poetry Month in April.
- Blackout poems would make a great creative warm-up on those days when you're having trouble getting started creatively.
- Try them as a 30-day project
(one poem each day) or a year-long weekly project. When you repeat an activity regularly, you'll start to notice nuances that you might otherwise miss.
- Groups (especially writing groups) might have fun
with everyone using a page of identical text to write different poems.
- Teachers often use this exercise in school. It's a great way to have students pay close attention to language. Plus, anyone can do this. There's no right or wrong poem.
- Now. (What are you waiting for?)