What on earth is blackout poetry?
And how can it stoke the creative fire within you?
And what if you’re not really “the poetic type”?
Good news! Even if you’ve never met a poetry assignment that didn’t fill you with dread, you’re about to learn something that will change the way you think of poetry.
This is something you can do to de-stress and restore your energy, even while you’re tricking yourself into doing something creative.
And all you need are someone else’s words and something to write with.
You can start with a newspaper that hasn’t been recycled yet. Or go through some of the books you’ve been thinking of donating.
Or see what you can do with those literary journals you’ve been holding onto but will probably never read.
As for your writing instrument, go with something that doesn’t make the tiny hairs stand up on the back of your neck. This is supposed to be relaxing.
Ready to learn how to write your first blackout poem?
What is Blackout Poetry?
Blackout poetry is a type of “appropriation art” — which means you’re taking something someone else created and using it to create something else.
Austin Kleon – the author of Steal Like an Artist and Newspaper Blackout– posts images of his own newspaper blackout poetry on his website and explains it in a YouTube video below.
All you need are good books (or newspapers/magazines) to use for blackout poetry, along with a pen or pencil and a black permanent marker or acrylic paint (with a fine-tip brush).
If you’d rather use color to block out the words you don’t use, feel free to choose paint or markers in colors other than black.
You can even create full-color illustrations around the words you’ve chosen for your blackout poem or build a scene around them.
You can find books, magazines, and newspapers that will work for blackout poetry in any or all of the following places:
You can probably think of at least a few books you were forced to read for school but will probably never read again.
Those books (if you still have them) are great candidates for blackout poetry.
You can also choose a book you enjoyed reading in the past. Buy an old copy from a used bookstore, Amazon, or wherever you can find one, and use it to create a blackout poetry journal.
Keep in mind you’re not creating poetry from scratch; you’re just picking out words that stand out to you or that you want for your poem.
These don’t all have to be meaningful words or phrases. Sometimes you’ll need an article, a preposition, or conjunction to help string the other words together into something that makes sense — at least to you.
You can even select individual letters to make up a word you want in your poem.
So, while you’re taking a break from writing with a relaxing activity that looks suspiciously like destroying perfectly good books (or redacting newspaper articles), you’re also creating something new.
How Long Should a Blackout Poem Be?
The length of your blackout poetry will depend on two things;
- The length of your page and its word count
- The number of words you select for your poem
There isn’t a standard word count or approximate length for blackout poetry, which is good news. You can make it as long or as short as you like.
For longer poems, choose pages with a higher word density (fewer images, smaller line spacing, etc.). Choose and outline your words before adding extra visuals.
How Was Blackout Poetry Created?
Austin Kleon’s breakout book, Newspaper Blackout, started a new craze in 2010 by showing readers a whole new way to create poetry.
He started in 2005, and even now, all he does is grab a copy of the New York Times and a Sharpie marker and creates a new one, choosing his words and blacking out the ones he doesn’t need. He shares his newest creations on his blog, as well as on his Tumblr.
Since then, writers worldwide have enjoyed this “found poetry” approach to busting through writer’s block and creating something new.
Austin Kleon kept his poetry fairly simple, focusing on the words. But many others add illustrations — black and white or in a chosen color scheme — to turn each poem into a work of art.
You can find plenty of these on Pinterest if you’re looking for ideas or inspiration.
Blackout Poetry Examples
You can get all sorts of blackout poetry ideas on Pinterest, on YouTube, and all over the internet. It’s blowing up as more and more creatives learn about it and dive in to restore their creative energy.
As you can see by the wealth of examples available online, you can go simple and focus on the words or turn each page into a work of art.
You choose how much detail to put into it, so whether you’re into mandalas, zentangles, manga or any other art form that takes your mind off writing and restores you, each page of blackout poetry is the combination of what the original artist brought to the table and what you do with it.
Enjoy the following examples to get some ideas for your first blackout poetry project.
1. Use black ink (or paint) to create a picture around the words.
You can also use stencils to add the shapes you want.
The bird in this one doesn’t surround any selected words, but it, along with the branches, helps illustrate the poem.
2. Set apart your chosen words with shading, and use lines to connect them.
You can shade using lines, dots, or smudges — below, along one side, or all around each word.
Lines can be wavy or angular, depending on the effect you want to create.
3. Use different colors to create a landscape with lines.
Only lines are used to cross out the words that aren’t needed for the poem, but the use of different colors and wavy lines creates a landscape.
4. Create an elaborate geometric design in black and white.
This one provides a solid black background for the words of the poem.
The geometric rays of the sun don’t completely black out the rest of the text, but they don’t have to.
5. Create a colorful zentangle around your chosen words.
If you love creating zentangles for stress relief, combine that with blackout poetry to create a journal full of artful “notes to self.”
6. Keep it simple with straight lines.
Here’s an example using simple lines to cross out the words not used in the poem.
7. Keep it simple with wavy lines.
This example uses lines that are wavy rather than straight.
Jagged “lightning” lines can also work, depending on the tone of your blackout poem.
8. Completely fill the space between the words of your poem.
This is the classic and more thorough blackout technique, using a permanent marker or black acrylic paint.
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How to Do Blackout Poetry
Blackout poetry instructions are simple. What you do with them can be as simple or complex as you want.
- Start with a book, magazine, or newspaper and open it to the page you’ll be using (one with plenty of words to choose from).
- Scan the page for words you want for your blackout poem and either write them down on a piece of paper next to your source or underline them right on the page. You can also draw a rectangle around them to isolate them from the surrounding words.
- Cross out, black out, or color over the words surrounding the words you’ve set apart for your poem. You can do this using a permanent marker (best for lines) or acrylic paint, which won’t bleed through the page as much as ink.
You can also connect each word of your poem to the next using lines or an image that surrounds all your chosen words and provides a uniform background.
The background for your words doesn’t have to black or even one color.
While a smooth, uniform background makes for easier reading, as long as you set your words off in a way that makes them stand out, you can make the background as elaborate, colorful, and detailed as you like.
Or if you prefer to stick with black and white, vary your designs and use geometric shapes and patterns to add visual interest.
Follow Austin Kleon’s example and use this 250-year-old art form to cure writer’s block by awakening your mind to new connections and ideas.
Steal from the best (or from a random newspaper) to make your blackout poetry creations something you’ll be proud to hold onto and share with others.
Digital Blackout Poetry
You can also do blackout poetry using Google Docs. All you need is some text you’ve copied from the internet or from another document.
If you like, you can also change the orientation of your blackout poetry page by going to the “File” menu, selecting “Page Setup,” and changing the orientation from Portrait to Landscape.
The easiest way to remove the original formatting of your copied text is to either go to the “Edit” menu of your Google Doc and select “Paste without formatting,” or press Ctrl-Shift-V to do the same thing.
There are three easy steps to digital blackout poetry with Google Docs:
Step 1: Temporarily change the background color.
Do this so you can more easily see the words you’ll keep for your poem. Go to File and “Page Setup.” There, you can change the color to anything other than white or black (gray works just fine).
Step 2: Highlight the words you want to keep in white.
This makes your selected words stand out and will keep them visible once you do step 3.
To make word selection quicker, select the first word you’ve already highlighted in white, go up to the paint roller icon on the far left of the menu bar, and double-click on it to turn on “Paint Format” mode.
Then, all you need to do is click on any other words you want to keep, and Google will automatically highlight each one in white.
When you’re done doing this, double-click again on the paint roller icon to turn it off. If you have all your words selected, it’s on to Step 3.
Step 3: Change the background color to black.
This hides all the text you didn’t highlight in white. All that’s left is your blackout poem.
If you’d rather have a different background color for your blackout poetry, just change the font color to match your final background color choice.
Any text highlighted in white (or another contrasting color) will still stand out, and the font color of your highlighted text will match the background.
Blackout Poetry Books
Whether you’re looking for a guide or a journal/workbook, consider the following options to start and make the most of your blackout poetry adventure. Two of the options below come in both ebook and print, while two are available only in paperback.
Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon
Leave it to poet and cartoonist Austin Kleon to invent a form of creative expression that restores (rather than exhausts) creative energy. This book has inspired countless writers to harness their unexplored ability to find poetry in the mundane. You’ll find samples of Kleon’s own blackout poetry (and others’) as well as a history and tutorial.
Blackout Poetry Journal by Kathryn Maloney
Featuring 44 randomly-collected book pages, along with inspiring images, this journal will become a treasured part of your library — especially once you fill it with your own blackout poetry. Use this for your own creative self-care time or share it to inspire young creatives. When you’ve filled this one, try one of Kathryn Maloney’s other journals here.
Make Blackout Poetry: Turn These Pages Into Poems by John Carroll
Create your own blackout poetry using selections from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, and more. You’ll also find newspapers, slang dictionaries, vintage etiquette manuals, and other texts ripe for the harvest.
John Carroll, the founder of Make Blackout Poetry (an Instagram community), provides examples for inspiration, as well as helpful tips for making the most of this creative workbook.
Redacted Poetry Journal: Create Blackout Poetry By Destroying The Classics by Offbeat Poet, Sherry Hale, and Mellowgraphics.
This 120+ page journal comes formatted in both ebook and print. Find selections from 50 classic literary works, including The Kama Sutra, Plato’s The Republic, and Voltaire’s Candide.
The print edition provides space to record your thoughts, as well as the ease of creating blackout poetry just by cracking it open and grabbing a pencil and black marker.
Ready to start writing blackout poetry?
Whether your first blackout poem looks like a redacted CIA document or something that belongs in an art gallery, I hope you enjoy making it and that it brings to mind more ideas you’d like to try.
Just letting your gut choose the words and stringing them together can be cathartic or at least relaxing.
So, use a book you may never read again, or use an extra copy of a book that holds a special place in your heart. Or use an old newspaper that hasn’t yet been taken out for recycling.
Choose a headline or a page that calls out to you and grab a permanent marker or your favorite black pen, and get to work turning someone else’s words into a poem (however random) of your own making.
Do it for fun or just to kill some time. But give it a try and see if it doesn’t accidentally create some new connections in your mind. Call it a bonus – or a side-effect. Maybe don’t do this before going to sleep for the night.
And don’t be surprised if you get hooked.