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

Tsunami Socks

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While in Portland, Oregon last summer I bought some beautiful hand-spun, hand-dyed sock yarn. I spent more than I should have, but when it comes to finding gorgeous sock yarn in a place I love I’ll pay just about anything to take it home!

Two beautiful skeins from The Yarns of Rhichard Devrieze (Peppino in Class Act) sat in my stash (wrapped in tissue paper) waiting for the perfect sock pattern to come along. I found it six months later in a great little book called Knitted Socks East and West by Judy Sumner. This fantastic collection of Japanese inspired stitch patterns included a pair of socks inspired by tsunami waves and islands. The second I saw them I knew my fancy yarn had met its match.

My Tsunami Socks are my new favorite pair! I love the subtle shades of blue and coral – a perfect combination for the idea of “waves” rolling around “islands.”

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Tsunami Socks

Overall, the pattern for these socks was incredibly easy to follow. I’m usually not a fan of chart only patterns, but the charts in this pattern are large enough to read without difficulty and the instructions are very clear. Just be careful reading the instep chart. The red repeat line is hard to see.

I’d recommend this pattern for knitters with a little experience who might  be ready for a challenge. The “wave” in the leg of these socks is completed with a four-stitch cable, which can be daunting for knitters who have never worked with a cable needle. Still, it’s a good first project as the cable only occurs once in 12 rounds. Be brave and give it a whirl!

My current project is a cute easy-knit tank top. Stay tuned!

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c.b.w. 2016

Fixing Those Darn Holes in Knitted Socks

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One of the reasons I love knitting socks is the fact that they rarely get holes. Back in the days of store-bought socks, I was dealing with holes every few months, which meant I had to keeping buying more socks.

Hand knit socks are much more sturdy and can take a beating if they are well cared for. I knit my first pair of socks 3½ years ago and they are still good as new even though I wear them all the time. The same goes for just about every pair of socks I’ve made since.

However, no pair of socks is immune to wearing thin or eventually forming that dreaded hole. Four pairs of my hand-knit socks recently developed either a full-blown hole or thinning spots. Sadly, two of those pairs are among my favorites!

It was easy enough to figure out why these four pair wore through so much faster than the others. Since making them I’ve learned how important yarn/fiber choice and sizing is when it comes to socks. If socks are made with the wrong fiber they will not hold up to regular wear and tear. Even worsted weight yarn can wear down quickly if the fiber content isn’t ideal. For example, wool blends tend to hold up better than 100% wool.

If socks are too small or too big, the same is true. A sock that’s too small is stretched to it’s limit which puts more stress on fibers that are already fighting a battle against shoes, floors, and constant movement. A sock that’s too big is sliding around all over the place pulling fibers at odd angles. All the more reason to check gauge and know your foot measurements!

To fix my socks, I relied on a how-to article I found in Sockupied, Ed. by Anne Merrow. It lays out the classic method of darning with easy-to-follow written directions and diagrams. This method works on socks with full-blown holes and threadbare areas all the same. However, it’s a lot easier to execute over threadbare areas, so try to catch those holes before they break open.

Darning takes just three steps:

  1. Straight-stitch a frame around the damaged area. Anchor stitches at least three rows out from the damage.
  2. Weave horizontal threads through each row of existing stitches and pull snugly (but not too tightly over open areas).
  3. Weave a vertical thread through each row of existing stitches and the established horizontal thread.

When in doubt, follow the diagram:

Light green = Step 1
Dark green = Step 2
Yellow = Step 3

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A few hours of work repaired my beloved socks.

Round 1: Repairing a Wide Open Hole

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Ahhh! That’s a bad hole!

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Not bad for my first try!

Round 2: Repairing A Threadbare Area (with a learning curve)

It’s ideal to have matching yarn, but when I made my first few pairs of socks, I didn’t think to keep the extra yarn. Two pairs had to be repaired with starkly different yarn which highlights my sometimes horrible stitching! Still, the damage is fixed! Both sock pairs are back in action, but this one shows the repair best:

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Yikes! A bald spot!

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Fixed (with a bad toupee). Note to self: Always save extra yarn.

Round 3: Repairing A Threadbare Area (Now I’ve got it!)

Matching yarn makes all the difference. Not only is it the right weight and color, but it fills in the gaps much more efficiently. The repair in this pair of socks is virtually invisible. It also helps that my stitching improved greatly since Round 1. When learning to fix your own socks, save your favorite pair for last. By then, you’ll know what you’re doing and your favorite socks will once again be perfect!

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You should have seen my face when I discovered this almost hole.

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Perfect camouflage! My favorite socks are ready to wear, again.

Happy Darning!

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c.b.w. 2016

The Braided Trivet Solution

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After three years of knitting, I’ve amassed a ridiculous amount of scrap yarn. This is the yarn where there’s too much to throw away yet not enough to complete even a small project. It’s a conundrum every knitter faces – What the heck do you do with all that extra yarn?

K1506_small2The solution came to me in the Summer 2015 issue of Interweave Knits magazine. In it, there was article on nifty ways to use an i-cord for household items, like coasters, seat cushions, and trivets. My interested was lukewarm at first – I loved the idea of knitting things for my home, but I hated the prospect having to knit i-cords. After knitting several i-cords for a tank top I made a couple of years ago, I swore I’d never do it again.

Then, I read a little further and found out there’s a much easier way to create the dreaded i-cord. Remember those tube knitting tools for kids? Well, take that idea and mechanize it with a crank and rotating hooks. The Embellish Knit essentially “motorizes”  the i-cord process. Sign me up!

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I tracked down an Embellish Knit at my local craft store and got to work! Creating an i-cord has never been easier – In under twenty minutes the Embellish Knit can crank out a 75 inch i-cord. After learning how to knit an i-cord on needles and hating every minute of it, I believe this is the best invention ever created for knitters!

My first trivet was created with leftover sock yarn from socks I made earlier this year. I simply turned the crank and made three 70″ i-cords. Then, I tied the top sections together by the tail yarn. I secured those ends to the back of a chair and braided the cords together. The last step is stitching the braid into a coil, using a horizontal zig-zag stitch, (the entire process is outlined visually in Interweave’s article).

I ended up with a 6″  trivet that didn’t buckle thanks to the horizontal zig-zag stitch.

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6″ sock yarn braided trivet – wool, alpaca, acrylic blend.

The success of the first trivet led me to experiment with other scrap yarns in different colors and weights. Through the process of trial and error I learned the Embellish Knit can handle a variety of different yarns, but anything above #3 weight yarn gets tangled in the hooks. Wool, cotton, acrylic, and blended fibers all seemed to work well as long they are on the lightweight end of gauge.

My scrap yarn basket has thankfully been reduced significantly thanks to a number of successful trivet projects.

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6.5″ braided trivet – spun and worsted 3-ply wool.

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7″ braided trivet – 100% cotton, sport weight

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8″ braided trivet – worsted weight wool, 10 ply

This one is definitely a birthday present for my mother-in-law. Turquoise is her favorite color and the yarn came from a pair of socks I made for her two years ago.

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7.5″ braided trivet – wool/acrylic blend, #3 weight

The most recent trivet I made is for me. It matches my kitchen perfectly and I love the heft of a lightweight worsted wool.

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8″ braided trivet – worsted weight wool, 10 ply

Some of these lovely trivets will be wrapped up as Christmas gifts and some will make their way into my kitchen. Either way, I’m thrilled to have a practical, yet fun way to use up yarn that would otherwise just sit there tempting my cat to make a mess.

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c.b.w. 2015

How To Stay Alive In a Pile of Query Rejections

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In the midst of gearing up for a new round of submitting query packages, a fellow blogger asked me how I’m able to stay so motivated after multiple rejections. That’s a good question and I’m sure a lot of aspiring authors are wondering the same thing.

Earlier this year, I collected eight rejections (five actual responses and three no-response) to go along with the previous five from last year. Thirteen rejections are not fun, but in the publishing industry this is a minuscule number. To pay my dues as a writer, I know I have many more rejections coming my way. That means I have to be ready to take them and keep going.

For me, staying motivated comes down to five basic principles:

Remember that it’s all subjective.

In any creative field, individual judgements are part of the game. Agents, editors, and publishing houses, all have their likes, dislikes, wish lists, and hate lists. A submission is considered through all of these lenses, along with the business side of publishing. A book has to make money. Period. A prospective agent or publisher can love a book, but if they think it won’t sell, it’s all over.

I liken it to my own personal judgements of books. Sometimes I love a book so much it earns a special place on my bookshelf. Then, there’s the books I hate – the ones I can’t sell to Half Price Books fast enough. Yet, someone else out there has read it seven times and loves it every time. Agents work the same way.

Try to remember it’s not personal. An agent isn’t sending a rejection as a personal attack. They are simply looking for a project that works with their individual interests and business goals.

You have to show up. 

Taking a risk can pay off with great success or tank with astounding failure. The point is understanding that if you want something to happen you have to show up and take action. Doing nothing = nothing happens.

You can write an incredible novel or poetry anthology, but if you’re too afraid of rejection it’ll just sit in a drawer and collect dust. Agents and publishers do no send out hunting parties to scope out introverted writers or dig out the next bestsellers from hidden writing rooms. They need writers to come out of the shadows and make themselves known.

If you hide, they can’t find you.

Let rejection be your fuel.

I don’t like to lose at anything, so I turn that competitive edge into a tool.  It’s all about attitude and choice! If I choose to let each rejection become a roadblock, I will lose the game instantly. If I choose to let each rejection be part of the process, then I stand a chance to Pass Go and collect $200.

Every rejection I receive only fuels my fire to try again. A “no” just means I haven’t found the right outlet and I’ve simply eliminated it from a giant pool of prospects. Soon enough, I’ll have it narrowed down to that one “yes.”

Wear Your Thick Skin

Rejection can sting pretty badly if you don’t wear protective armor. My thick skin was developed through enduring beta readers picking apart my work, losing countless competitions, and realizing something I’d written was total crap.

Thick skin is only possible if you’re willing to open yourself up to criticism, rejection, and reality. It is absolutely essential to let these three things sink in and make you stronger. Mainly because you learn that not everyone will fall in love with your work and that’s okay!

Rejections bounce right off of thick skin like one of those super bouncy rubber balls.

It only takes one Yes.

In the end, it won’t matter how many “no’s” stack up in my inbox. What is going to matter is the one “yes.” Keep the focus where it belongs – directly on the goal. At the core of motivation is eternal hope and hard work. Never lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish and never stop believing that it will happen.

When that “yes” shows up it will erase every single rejection you’ve ever received.

I’m still waiting and working for my “yes,” but I’m pushing forward  with these five principles in mind. As Galaxy Quest so eloquently put it: Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

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c.b.w. 2015