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Altered Book Pages: Blackout Poetry

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC


In art, there are many opportunities to combine and interlace words with images to reflect emotions and personal experiences as a way to connect to express one’s self. Poetry is one way that individuals are able to express their emotions using unique organizations of words to elicit emotional responses. Blackout poetry is a type of poetry that is made by censoring text, often by crossing out words or phrases. The result is a poem that is composed of the remaining white space on the page, and the altered text often tells a story or provides a new perspective on the original text.


Blackout poetry is created by taking an existing piece of text and removing all the words except for a few key ones. This leaves behind a poem that is often raw, emotional, and expressive. In this process, one might use markers, pens, pencils, stamps or other mediums to intentionally cover some of the words and maintain the visibility of others- which can be at random or deliberate depending on what is needed during the session. The goal is to reveal a word or set of words that then prompts an emotional response or inspiration for ongoing reflection and creative responses.


Blackout poetry is a great way to work through periods of feeling stuck or uninspired by relying on the structure of what is in front of you- the page filled with words. In knowing that you have a set page of words that you can work with, you are able to focus your attention on a directed goal rather than perhaps feeling overwhelmed with generating ideas or coming up with a specific set of imagery. There's something about taking an existing text and completely obscuring it that feels incredibly satisfying - like you're uncovering a hidden secret.


So how can you begin this process of creating blackout poetry? You will need a book or page from a book that has pre-written or typed text and preferably a book that you do not mind altering. You might consider going to your nearest library and seeing if they are discarding any worn or unused books. You will also need some type of medium to use as your tool for covering up the words that you will be excluding from your final poem. This can be as simple as a pencil or pen, or you may choose to use colored pencils, markers, stamps or paints.


Once you have your book page open or a singular page in front of you, you can then decide the process that seems best for your needs. Perhaps you are looking for words that stand out to you. Perhaps you are looking for the text to say something meaningful once you are finished. Perhaps you will find one word and allow that to shape the theme or mood of your poem. Begin to outline words or sets of words that seem important to you in the moment and allow your intuition to drive the process. There is no limit on how many or how few words you are meant to choose as long as the set of words seem aligned with your intention for the process.


When you feel that the poem you have created feels complete, you can take a moment to decide how to proceed. You might choose to create an image or background for your poem or zentangle a pattern onto the page. Consider the thoughts, ideas, memories and feelings that the remaining text brings up for you and write these ideas down in a reflective journal that you can use to help with processing this material.


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