Erasure and Blackout Poems: Poetic Forms

One form I’ve been meaning to get to for a while is the blackout poem and also the erasure poem. Both are sort of similar with the major difference being in presentation, I suppose.

Or it’s kind of like rectangles and squares. You see, all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

The same could be said of erasure and blackout poems. After all, all blackout poems are erasure poems, but not all erasure poems are blackout poems.

What is a blackout poem?

A blackout poem is when a poet takes a marker (usually black marker) to already established text–like in a newspaper–and starts redacting words until a poem is formed. The key thing with a blackout poem is that the text AND redacted text form a sort of visual poem.

I tried creating my own and pasting it onto the blog, but I’m having technical difficulties–so instead, click here to check out a blackout poem from one of the masters of the form, Austin Kleon.

What is an erasure poem?

An erasure poem is any poem that sculpts itself out of another larger text. The blackout poem is an erasure poem, but so is a poem like this:

From Ed, by Robert Lee Brewer

We’re approaching the annual
trip of six young winners!

The deadline for poets is NOW!

Open Antioch
Cincinnati
and Paris first.

Start journeys of great things.

How moral characters use
cash and horror for information.

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Some erasure poems work with or against the original text; some erasure poems look for completely new and unrelated meanings than the original text; and some erasure poems are just complete nonsense. In the example above, I used one of my recent WritersMarket.com newsletters (which by the way are free to receive, though site subscriptions have a fee).

Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure/blackout poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He prefers to use horoscopes for most of his erasures, though it’s also fun to do with longer rambling free verse poems too.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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18 thoughts on “Erasure and Blackout Poems: Poetic Forms

  1. DanielAri

    “Ave”

    Once a curious visitor wished for the angel’s name.
    And the uncertain visitor grew gently
    And opened the door, wondering what mystery wind flung the lord.
    Then this answer bore the name—uttered, “Velvet.”
    Fancy, fiery Velvet whose Velvet lamplight perfumed angels,
    Kind enchanted balm within a sainted Clasp,
    A sainted name, a rare and radiant name,
    that word the door, the lamplight, lifted!

    —Daniel Ari
    from “The Raven”

  2. IrisD

    Erasure or blackout poem from 51 line song of 2 Samuel 22 in Holy Bible

    smoke from His nostrils
    fire from his mouth
    thundered from heaven
    rescued me
    strong fortress
    tower of deliverance
    shows lovingkindness

  3. stepstep

    Mystic

    Mystic Pizza in Mystic, Connecticut
    Made Picasso from San Francisco
    Express a five-week run
    With Crazy Love.

    LaSteph

    From Woman’s World magazine October 27, 2014

  4. Linda.E.H

    I blacked out most of the text of page 204 of The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc by Loraine Despres and ended up with this erasure poem. For some reason I was drawn to all the words with s sounds in them.

    Shade
    straddling the cemetery
    splits spring

    and solace,
    suggesting
    a simple breaking.

    Linda Hofke

    This wasn’t easy but was fun. I hope to do a few more.

  5. bluerabbit47

    Our fathers brought
    forth lives–
    In a sense,
    this ground,
    can never forget
    what they did.
    It is for us,
    the unfinished work,
    to be dedicated
    to the task remaining —
    that people
    shall not perish
    from the earth.

    Lifted from The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

  6. Cynthia Page

    Music from the Soul

    The voice of sage
    masterpieces opening
    grinding blues mornings
    sounds as if the heart
    of unheard music is
    a phrase seeking a verse,
    The spectral melody
    shackled my flesh
    on that river.
    Trance is the key
    we played in.

    by Cynthia Page
    Source: “The Murk and the Mystery” in Rolling Stone Magazine by Greg Marcus.

  7. grcran

    Toys is nonsense r us

    Some work with or against meaning nonsense.
    one of which are free
    though site have a fee
    you’re not more than 50%
    you’re not making enough to create
    the original source

    by gpr crane
    source: RLB’s lesson on erasure poems, this very webpage

  8. Bruce Niedt

    I thought I’d share one I wrote during a previous poem-a-day challange. I guess technically it’s a “blackout” poem because I tried to keep the words in the approximate position they held on each line. That may not come through here format-wise, though. The source is Billy Collins’ “Victoria’s Secret”, a long and amusing poem about looking through the Victoria’s Secret catalog and imagining what the models were thinking, while describing their lingerie in detail. I deleted over 90% of the text here.

    To Rise

    a deeply scalloped
    shoulder

    cannot hide the shadow of

    organza

    Here, the
    reclining
    widow
    decorated
    with ruffles
    mouth

    arching,
    as if to say I am nothing
    but
    a low sweetheart

    a music box
    will wake her
    catlike
    in the library

    with a
    shimmering
    fireplace

    her neighbor

    a beautifully shaped
    princess
    displays
    photographic
    ice cream
    a new sofa
    peach, rose, and periwinkle
    It is
    a swollen
    garden

    Rain is beating on the roof.

  9. Misky

    To Be A Badger

    Timidly wild and smoothly clean,
    an oddly head at two-years old.
    There it stood, tender at waters edge,
    briefly, no need for sun, we’re told.

    ~ ~

    Source: The Argus Newspaper, article “Badger Cull to Use Gas”

  10. Meriadoc

    Bayberry Cottage

    Intrigue hidden beneath
    Enchanted Piano Keys
    Of Silver Seed.

    A Fragrant Candle is lit
    Handpainted Roses
    Red Leather Gloves

    and Berries mingle silk

    Snowflake Glistening Tones
    Scarlet Gown Sweep Train

    Sealing Wax
    Once Upon a Time
    the sender’s confidential
    Letters

    Dipped

    as Lovely Rings.

    (Two)

    -Victorian Trading Company Catalogue, Page Three

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