Creating Black Out Poetry

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A little over a year ago, I created my first piece of black out poetry. What began as a fun little experiment has turned into a creative process that often surprises me with interesting results.

My first black outs comes from an old spy novel that was falling apart. I stuck to the simplicity of blacking out the entire text except a few choice words.

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However, it didn’t take long for me to realize all that black space could be more than just black. I started doodling little designs in all that space to enhance the highlighted words.

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From there, it dawned on me that rubber stamps and some black ink could add an even stronger design element. I made the conscious choice to stay away from color for the simple reason that I love the strong contrast of black and white.

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My process for black out poetry is a simple one:

Box random words that stand out. Don’t read, just scan.

I do this with a pencil, so nothing is set in stone. Other black out poets are brave and start with a marker, but that makes me much too nervous. My muse likes a little wiggle room!

Look for a narrative or interesting word combinations.

This is the moment of truth. Sometimes a poem will pop out and sometimes it’s just a bunch of words that don’t make sense. For me, this is where the work begins. If a poem can be found, I’ll do my best to find it. Or I’ll whip out the eraser and start over again.

Scan for additional words that might complete the narrative or enhance word combinations.

Once I’ve got a possible narrative or nice combination of words, I’ll do another scan to see if there’s anything else hiding in the text that will tie everything together into a more complete package.

Eliminate the words that don’t serve the poem.

The eraser comes out again to get rid of any stray marks or boxes left over from the original scan.

Black Out!

Original Process: Pull out the Sharpies and start blacking out anything unrelated to the poem. I use a wide variety of Sharpies – superfine (to outline highlighted words), fine (to extend the border around highlighted words to prevent stray marks), wide wedge (a huge marker that covers wide spaces).

Stamp Process: Sometimes a poem matches up to a rubber stamp in my collection. I never set out to create a poem to match a stamp – it’s always sheer happenstance. If there’s a nice match between stamp and poem, I’ll integrate the stamped black image into the text. Then, I’ll follow the original process to complete the piece.

The beauty of black out poetry is it’s unpredictable nature. There is no wrong way to find it and there are no boundaries. All you need is a little imagination and a juicy Sharpie.

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For more Black Out inspiration, check out the links below:

Pinterest: Black Out Poetry

My Black Out Poetry board on Pinterest features my work as well as pieces from other incredibly talented poets. 

Black Out Poetry

This link connects to all posts on this blog tagged with Black Out Poetry

Austin Kleon

Kleon’s book, Newspaper Black Out, is an incredible source of inspiration and so is his website covering all things related to creativity. 

Poetic Asides

This poetry blog on Writer’s Digest first introduced me to the idea of erasure poetry a.k.a. black out. 

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c.b.w. 2016