Blackout Poetry: The Creative Process of Deconstruction, Reconstruction

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Blackout Poetry: A Unique Twist
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

Last month, I asked readers to begin considering which forms of art they’re drawn to. I was delighted when a woman named Hannah reached out to say, “I enjoy reading poetry and ideally, I’d love to create my own. But writing isn’t exactly my ‘thing.’ Any suggestions on how to break through that barrier?” Yes! Hannah’s inquiry is the inspiration for this month’s column where we will dive into the unique and creative concept of Blackout Poetry!

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The term ‘poetry’ is often synonymous with the likes of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath. We think of poetry as brief story telling using profound and melodic words. While all of that is true in the traditional sense, blackout poetry allows you to create beautiful, aesthetic works of poetry without writing a single word. I was introduced to the concept a few years ago when my daughter came home from school, excited to show me a new art project they’d done in class. I’d never heard of blackout poetry but as she explained the idea, I was hooked. So many things about this art form fascinated me! Beyond the ability to create a poem without actually writing anything, blackout poetry also transforms itself into stunning visual art. Furthermore, I learned that blackout poetry has been used by writers to help them push through writer’s block and to get those creative juices flowing! How had I not heard of this before?!

Creating blackout poems is a process of deconstruction and then reconstruction, all of which lend themselves to the creative process. To get started is simple.

Step One: Scour your bookshelf for a novel or other reading material you don’t mind ripping pages out of. If that sounds like sacrilege to you (I get it!), thrift stores and yard sales are great places to pick up not-so-treasured books at a great price! Once you have the book, you can either flip through until you see a page with words that stand out to you, or you can be daring and tear out a page at random.

Step Two: The goal here isn’t to read the page in its entirety, as that often leads to getting “snagged” on the literal story. Rather, we want to identify only the words and phrases that stand out, which are called “anchors.” These words tend to be meaningful words that feel significant to the concept of poetry. Scan through the page and use a pencil (pen is so unforgiving here!) to circle any that immediately speak to you.

Step Three: Now go back and read through your anchor words/phrases and any additional words in succession that start to form coherent sentences. You will start to get a general “vibe” of the depth and meaning of your poem at this point.

Step Four: Still using your pencil, add in additional words (he/she/the/etc) to create concrete poetic lines. Keep in mind, you can eliminate parts of words to help keep the meaning of the poem clear. For example, if you need the word “is” but it’s not present, look for other words that contain the letters you need (i.e. “This” or “insist”). Try different possibilities and combinations before you finalize your word selection for the poem.

Step Five: Go back make sure only the words you want in your poem are circled. Erase lines around the words you won’t be using.

Step Six: Now you’re ready to create your blackout masterpiece! Using a black marker, carefully trace around the words you’re keeping. Note: Black marker often “bleeds” into a larger surface of the page than intended, so be sure to use a thinner marker for this part. Once your “keep” words are outlined, fill in the rest of the page in black.

Step Seven: At this point, I love to use a white marker (I find chalkboard markers are perfect for this) to create a more visually aesthetic look to my blackout poetry. Once you get comfortable with the concept, you can add more color, different variations of blackout, or even including drawn images to your piece.

Fun Black Out Poetry Ideas:

  • Measure the size of your final piece, purchase a frame, and create a stunning personalized gift for someone you love.
  • Have a blackout poetry craft party! This is a fun idea for adults and children alike. Another fun twist on this idea – each person starts with a copy of the same page. Then, (without peeking!) creates their own blackout poem before sharing the final results!
  • If the character in a book shares a name with a friend or family member, make note of it. This will allow you to go back later and create a custom piece for them!

After trying blackout poetry, I became so obsessed that I now have an entire box of completed poems, with several new ones created each week. So even if writing isn’t your strong suit, blackout poetry allows you to harness the power of words through a uniquely creative medium.

If you post your blackout poems, you know I’d be thrilled to see them! Be sure to tag your posts on Instagram: @iwritewhatsreal & @hilltownfamilies.

About the Author

Cheryl Allan Carlyle ♦ Cheryl is a native of Western Massachusetts who was introduced to theater at a young age, and whose love of performing arts has only grown throughout the years. Cheryl is an accomplished playwright whose feature-length play, The Weight of Silence, made its world premiere in Cape Cod. Her work has also been showcased at local theaters and festivals throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Whether it’s local stages or the bright lights of Broadway, Cheryl has a deep appreciation for theater arts and the amount of work and dedication that goes into each performance.

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