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Creating Blackout Poetry

Ready to make a sacrifice to the patron saints of poetry? Creating blackout poetry involves taking a found document, whether that be from a repurposed book, article or some other form of printed text, then using a black marker to cross out most of the text, leaving only carefully selected words visible to uncover an entirely new literary work. This low-stakes creative process can be done with very little preparation eases students into writing their own poetry and serve many purposes, across many subjects. From analysis to reflection, this practice encourages students to mine the words of writers, historical leaders, scientists and lyricists for new meaning, as they create their own heavily redacted masterpiece.

Austin Kleon: Taking A Peek Inside “The Invention Machine” | Interloper Films

Although there is a long history of found poetry and blacking out text, author Austin Kleon has become well known for his work in the genre. In this video, he explains his process and how it links to creative discovery and finding one’s artistic voice. He provides viewers with a history of blackout poetry and explains why it’s still such a relevant and powerful art form today.

Examples of Blackout Poems

Here are some excellent examples of blackout poems to continue familiarizing students with the form. Many of these were written by students who have taken part in blackout poetry classes and workshops. We have also included examples that demonstrate how this process can be used to create stunning visual art as well.

Blackout Poetry Instructions | Sean Ziebarth

Once students are familiar with what blackout poetry looks like, it’s time to talk process. Some easy to follow instructs are laid out in this slideshow so that students understand that there’s a method to the madness.

Virtual Blackout Poetry

Often students get bogged down with the fear of “making a mistake” and virtual blackout poetry is a way to lower the stakes by presenting them with a way to play with the artform without the worry of taking a marker to a word that you might end up wanting to use.

Searching for Poetry in Prose | The New York Times
Select a Times article and choose up to 15 words to highlight, as your resulting blackout poem appears beside the original text. By clicking on a chosen word a second time, it can be eliminated from the text. Perfect for beginners.

Interactive Blackout Poetry | John Esco
Users are presented with one story snippet or can copy and paste any found text into the submission field. By selecting words, the program produces a new text that only includes the highlighted words, making it easier to share aloud.

Subtraction = Creativity | Teachers Pay Teacher/ J Peck

If you prefer to introduce your students to this type of work with a complete lesson plan, this resource can be used as a stand alone assignment or parts of it can be printed out as a worksheet to provide students with useful tips, multiple choice questions, examples from fiction, informational texts and other quirky found documents. As a complete lesson, this teacher has also provided resources that introduce the art form as we have in the first few assignments.

Suggested Documents for Blackout Poems

We have identified a few texts that are rich with dynamic language, making this process effective and engaging so that you have something to start with. Although there is no need to worry about how much students comprehend if you are simply interested in creating new work, we have marked the texts that students would be able to look at analytically, if you’d like them to think more critically about the process. We have selected texts from poetry to nonfiction to historical documents just to show you that any text can be up for elimination…and rediscovery.

Blackout Poem Final Project | Kiddom

Wrap up your blackout poetry lesson with an assignment designed to create visual blackout poetry that combines found images with found text. Students can choose photographs from a New York Times collection or you can provide them with other materials. They’ll also need access to printed materials and the worksheet lists a number of materials that would be perfect for this project.

Eboni Hogan

Content Specialist

Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.

Common Core Standards

3.L.3.a Choose words and phrases for effect.
4.L.3.a Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
5.L.3.a Expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.

Teacher Resources

What is Blackout Poetry? | Bustle
Discusses how to avoid plagiarism, how to credit sources and the evolution of blackout poetry

Use Google Drawings to Make Blackout Poetry
Demonstrates another way to create digital blackout poems using Google Drawings for those that are tech savvy

Blackout Poetry in the Classroom
An educator describes how she uses this form in her classroom

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