by Johanna Drews
Blackout poetry combines both language and creativity. Over two hundred and fifty years ago, a man named Caleb Whiteford was the author of the first-ever form of blackout poetry. He took print newspapers, which were brand new, and found little poems and puns in them that he later published. Blackout poetry has evolved since then, but the basic principles have stayed the same as they were in the beginning.
Making a blackout poem is very simple, and it is applied just how it sounds. An artist takes a newspaper article, a random page from a book, or any established text and picks a few words to make the poem and scratches out the rest. Some people argue that blackout poems are a form of plagiarism because you are using someone else’s words. However, even though you are using someone else’s words, you are changing the meaning of the text entirely by only choosing certain words. Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest argues that “if you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art.” Many authors like Brewer have said that they use this as a method to help overcome writer’s block because it helps their creativity flow naturally.
Author Austin Kleon started out using blackout poetry when he found himself stuck in writer’s block. He has since then made blackout poetry his main artistic focus. He has published several books on the art and shares his own poems on Instagram(@austinkleon) and Tumbler(@newspaperblackout).
These poems can be as simple or as elaborate as one desires. There are many artists that focus on just a few words and then use the space around it to draw a picture that reflects and emphasizes the words visually as well.
This form of poetry is growing a lot through social media. Whether it’s on Tumblr, Instagram, or Snapchat, the biggest way this art form is shared is over the internet. There have even been a few books of blackout poetry that have been published. In 2010 Austin Kleon published the book Newspaper Blackout and since then more and more of these poems have started popping up as people share them with others and others take an interest in them. They are visually appealing and are also usually a quick read which fits with the fast-paced style of social media.
I started doing blackout poetry about five years ago, and since then I have filled out almost two full books of poems. As you would assume, most people don’t want to use their favorite novel to create blackout poems because it is destructive to the original text. I used old books that were just going to be thrown away when my local library was getting rid of them, so I took them and recycled them into blackout poems. I first learned of blackout poetry in one of my high school English classes, and I started making them out of everything, I even blacked out some of my own original poems to see what new ones I could find. To this day I still practice blackout poetry all the time, whether it’s in one of my own books or if it’s on a printed off reading assignment that we’re going over in class.
These poems helped me a lot when I was struggling in high school, and we as artists need a healthy outlet for our emotions. Like most people that age, I was still trying to find my own voice, and blackout poetry presented a whole new language to me. It helped me realize that these words that I was drawn to from other works I could turn into my own creations with my own message. It was a way for me to let out all of my pent up emotions into a new form of art in which I could use to express myself.
Even after writing page after page in old books, I never grew tired of making my own creations and seeing what other stories I could find hiding between words. I love trying to take a book that I would have otherwise never read to see what new messages I can find hidden within. I was able to create something that was a reflection of myself and my feeling when I created the poem. At times it’s easier to look for your own words inside of someone else’s than to try to come up with them all on your own. I love being able to take some old text that hardly anyone would read and turning it into something I can share with others today in an organic language. Blackout poetry can spark the start of a new poem, and there have been many times I have finished a blackout poem and that was only the beginning of another poem.
You could give the same page to a room full of people and no one would end up with the same poem. To me, a blackout poem is a reflection of the person at the time they made it because they are skimming the page to see what words jump out to them personally. Because of this, I believe that our eyes are more easily drawn to the words that are related to how we are feeling or what has been happening in our lives. Without even realizing it we can create a glimpse into ourselves that we may not have been originally trying to share.
A blackout poem speaks for itself whether it’s through words or the art that surrounds it. Each one tells a story or gives us an idea of the person who created it. I think that blackout poems are something that everyone should try because they can turn into a really amazing way of taking one text and turning it into something totally new and all your own.
Miller, E. CE. “Blackout Poetry Is A Fascinating Art Form You Can Try At Home Right
Now.” Bustle, 28 Aug. 2017, www.bustle.com/p/what-is-blackout-poetry-these-fascinating-poems-are-created-from-existing-art-78781.