The past year has been difficult for many people. The pandemic, politics, job loss and isolation – most Americans had to find some new coping mechanisms to get through. Here’s one: erasure poetry.
Creativity can heal in difficult times, but harnessing these creative juices is not always easy. Sometimes you are just too overwhelmed and exhausted to write or create. During these times it can be helpful to turn to found poetry – a style of poetry where you write something new using only what you can find in an existing text.
Sometimes when it’s hard to write, this caveat gives you a starting point. It’s a bit like a painter working with a limited palette: you have both a solid foundation to begin your poem on and the challenge of creating something with just what you have in front of you. And even if you have difficulty writing traditionally constructed poetry, the medium of poetry found can give you access to vocabulary that you didn’t know you needed.
One of the forms of found poetry is erasure. The author finds something new to say in an existing text; in this case an article from the Times. Blackout poetry is a style of erasure that removes the words around a poem you found in the text to present both a piece of literature and a strong image of that literature on the same page.
You may be wondering, am I really writing a poem using someone else’s work to start? Yes! To write a well-found poem – and in this case a deletion – the poet has to intervene in the source text. This means that your poem is saying something different than the source code. It will be representative of your voice and your narrative.
The rules are pretty simple: in the event of a deletion, you can only use the words that appear in the article you selected, and you must use them in the order they appear. How you erase the words around your poem is up to you. Find out how to do it.
Choose your materials.
How are you going to delete? Would you like to use Wite-Out? A marker? Sparkle? Maybe you will try a collage. Erasing in the above poem was done with a Sakura Gelly Roll pen.
Find an article.
You can choose an article that makes you feel strong – joy, anger, or sadness. Or you choose an article that you cannot relate to at all. Both are great places to start. Once you’ve read the article, you’ll be able to identify words and phrases that you find interesting or that appeal to you, regardless of the context of the piece. Try to come up with at least one interesting or strong word to build the poem around.
The above poem was written using Marcus Westberg’s article “Crisp, Calm, and Quiet: A Winter Swedish Wonderland” from the January 10 print edition of The Times. It is important that your voice speaks in your poem, and not that of the original writer – a deletion poem should not summarize the material it was created from. It should say something new. While Mr Westberg’s article is about pandemic travel in Sweden, the poem is about the vanity of new beginnings.
Prepare your design.
Before you start this sharpie or wite-out, you may want to use a pencil to outline the words you want to keep. You can also make some copies of your article to practice or experiment marking up the page from the original newspaper page you are using.
When ready, erase any words other than those in your poem using the medium of your choice.
You wrote a poem. And maybe – just maybe – it helped you feel a little less stressed today. Cite your sources, then share your poem with friends. Perhaps you will find other erasers in your midst, a small clan of devious writers with whom you can exchange your creations.