Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Grab a permanent marker and newspaper or magazine from recycling. Flip to a random page, preferably with columns. First scan through the text for an image that strikes your fancy. (Your poem doesn't need to begin there. It's an idea to build on.) Next, begin blacking out the words until you hit a phrase or word or piece of word you'd like to use in your poem. Read across the columns rather than straight down to mix things up.

This is a variation on the cutups done by the Dadaists . Artists cut up pictures and poets cut up articles, then pasted them randomly together.

Austin Kleon has created many (with a book of them to be published next year) and run a few contests a couple of years ago. You can see his at his blog and more at the Flickr group of Newspaper Blackout Poems for a load of examples.

Here are Austin Kleon's TIPS:
  • Combine both columns into one poem—don’t just do each column at a time! It doesn’t make for a good read. Skip between the two…this allows for more interesting possibilities. You can see the winners here and here and here and here .
  • Remember that Westerners read left-to-right, up-to-down. Poems read best if they follow that pattern.
  • You can get around the left/right/up/down problem by connecting words with whitespace. (See an example.)
  • What you are doing when making a blackout poem, in the words of Allen Ginsberg, is “shopping for images.” Nouns and verbs make the best images.
  • Regardless of where it’s located in the text, I always start a poem by looking for a word or image that resonates with me and move from there.
  • It’s a lot like a word search.
  • You don’t have to use the whole text. What to leave in / leave out / how long is the magic.
  • Poetry doesn’t have to be serious!
  • Try not to think to hard about it and let it flow! It might take you a bunch of tries. Don’t be intimidated! Anyone can do it!
If you're lacking in newspapers or magazines, here's the text he used for the contests. If you use a paint or photo editing program, you can blackout with the paintbrush tool.


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