Creative Destruction for Writers: How to Write a Blackout Poem
The first step of this exercise is grueling for book lovers: Find a book you are willing to destroy. Blackout poetry works better if you can find an old book full of beautiful words and phrases, making your destructive act especially painful. But from this crucible of literary sacrifice, you will witness the birth of a phoenix from the ashes. (Or at least an interesting crow or two.)
As with yesterday’s prompt, “The Art of the Steal,” this activity makes creativity into an act of discovery, forcing writers to abandon the tired and overused expressions that come to mind most easily. The writer’s goal is to find words or phrases someone else has written and manipulate them into a new piece of writing completely different from the original.
To create a blackout poem, begin by scanning an old book’s pages for words or phrases you find provocative or interesting. You don’t need to know why, and when you start, it’s best to have no goal. Use a pencil to lightly circle the words you discover. After you’ve done this with a number of pages, pick one page that you especially like and begin blacking out the words that don’t interest you, leaving only those that work together to express a story, a thought, or a feeling that you probably didn’t even know you had in your mind until now.
Sometimes, you will find that a single page works to reveal a poem. Other times, you may need a series of pages to express your complete idea. Below is a poem from Prospect senior, Ryane McGreevy, who inspired me to create this prompt. Ryane’s poem unfolds over four pages.
The creative process here is one of discovery; the writer has to be comfortable with surprises. Ryane only realized how well her pages worked together after she had created them and saw them next to each other.
Some writers have used the blackout system to create entire books out of a single old book. You can also “black out” words with color and design to make the pages you create into visual works of art. If you enjoy this process, don’t hold back!
For tonight, experiment with creating a blackout poem at least one page long. If you’d like, feel free to do more. Tweet our class a picture of your work for the start of class tomorrow.