Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 57 seconds
Erasure poetry is a subgenre of found poetry which eliminates pre-existing text to compose a poem. As rules governing respective poetry styles (haiku, haibun, free verse, sonnets, sestinas, etc.) vary, there are also rules within found poetry which can be kept or broken according to the poet. Erasure poetry—often called blackout poetry or white-out poetry—typically takes a page (either from an unknown or credited source) and will blackout or white-out words (hence the names) in order to leave a few words on the page.
Imagined as a collage which erases instead of compiles, one can “erase” the text from a page and then decorate the page (with drawings, magazine cut-outs, photography, and even three-dimensional additions). While this may seem like a fun or innocent arts and crafts activity, this practice has been experimented on by notable writers and artists: Doris Cross composited “Dictionary Columns” in 1965; Ronald Johnson crafted a new book, RADI OS, out of redacted text from Paradise Lost in 1977; A Humument is also a redacted book from “A Human Document” by Tom Phillips, first published in 1970. Erasure poetry has often served as a critical lens to analyze and deconstruct societal issues, including racism and colonialism, #MeToo, and harmful politics.
Erasure poetry can be completed with the imagination as the only limitation for the eraser (ahem, writer). I have selected two poems quoted in translation from “The Classic of Tea” to serve as a canvas for erasure poetry.
Can anyone guess what the original poems are?
To craft one’s own erasure poem, one may select any document to use as a page (magazine, newspaper, discarded book, recycled paper) and mark it with pens, white out, markers, or any other device which can conceal words. To see alternative styles of found poetry, visit Under Erasure (a gallery including erasure art and poetry in New York City), The History of Blackout Poetry, Found Poetry Review, and Bustle’s article “Blackout Poetry Is A Fascinating Art Form You Can Try At Home Right Now.”
If material resources aren’t available, taking a screenshot of a piece of text and marking it via a mobile photo editing app will work just as well. For those who are creative writers, try taking a piece of your own work, whether published or not, and attempt erasure poetry. It just might inspire the next page.
Images provided and copyright held by author