Make Blackout Poetry

January 27, 2017

Guest post brought to you by the Editor of Lessons We Paid For, Shelby Smith

My participation in the Instagram trend of Blackout Poetry began as a fun experiment. The challenge of repurposing someone else’s words to express something all my own is a welcome break from writing original poetry and prose. My process begins with skimming the pages of a book whether it be a novel, a collection of short stories, or a nonfiction piece. Once a word or phrase catches my eye, I circle it and try to build a poem around it. I’ve used a range of mediums to black out pages included pen, pencil, marker, and paint. There is a lot of room for growth and subsequently, error. Not every attempt becomes a realized poem either because I can’t find substance in the surrounding text or due to sloppy work that renders essential words illegible.

I initially only used books that I had read in hopes of maintaining a ritual of respect and appreciation for the written word. Many of my favorite blackouts were found in Kerouac’s On the Road. Since the start of this project May of this year, I’ve created over 200 blackouts. Due to the fast progression, I haven’t been able to uphold the guidelines of integrity with which I set out. After destroying several of my favorite books I picked up a few 10¢ romance novels from a second hand store, but the potential for creating meaningful blackouts just wasn’t there. In lieu of destroying physical copies of books (without even the courtesy of reading them first), I started downloading PDFs of classics like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice, and using a simple drawing app to create blackouts. I’ve also taken photos of books I own and edited them in the same fashion.

While I don’t view my experimentation in this trendy visual art-creative writing hybrid in the same light as my original, self-generated writing, blackout poetry has provided a unique opportunity for self-expression. The format allows the brevity of a haiku without the structure and produces pieces that are less personal while still representative of my state of mind at the time of creation.

Since I have far less time to read for leisure than I would like, I’m always looking for new poetry accounts on Instagram. I usually prioritize brevity and creativity. In this vein, I came across John Carroll’s account. Though he is not responsible for pioneering the practice, Carroll’s work is quintessential blackout poetry. I have had the honor of being featured on his page several times along with many other poets, including Carroll himself. Individuals like Carroll make social media an inviting and nurturing space to share ideas and grow as an artist. His simple acts of reaching out to share a quick word of appreciation and encouragement on multiple occasions is more than enough to push me to continue creating blackout poetry

Want to see more of Shelby’s work? Follow her Instagram account here.



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