Creating Black Out Poetry


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.


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.


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.


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

23 thoughts on “Creating Black Out Poetry

    • I feel the same way. The only books I use for black out poetry are books that are already in bad shape. Usually I pull from the “drop one/take one” bookshelf at work, where the library discards old books or people bring in books they don’t want anymore. I look for the ones with missing or torn pages, completely broken bindings, and missing covers. Garage sales are good places to find books in poor condition, too. The way a I see it, a book that far gone deserves a chance to become something new. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • The easiest way to do this is to go to a library book sale or a place where you can get inexpensive books. Then if your mark up a book, it’s okay. I have the huge book Roses by Leila Meacham, so I have lots of pages to work with. Downside is I have to really hunt with this book, but I have still come out with some good things. Pardon to Ms. Meacham who probably never thought her book would be defaced.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I’m glad to have read this. I confess that I don’t really “get” the idea, or reasoning behind black out poetry. Having said that, I’m always willing to open my mind and heart to things I don’t necessarily “get”. Yours are more interesting than most hence my following along!


  2. This is so informative and inspiring! I never thought about pencil first…that would be my approach, too…I need to find a book that’s interesting enough that I don’t feel bad about blacking out now! 🙂


    • I just picked up a “new” book off the free pile at work. As soon as I’m done with the pages I’ve pulled out of A Separate Peace, I’ll be tinkering with something new. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of poetry it yields. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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