An In-depth Guide to Writing Blackout Poetry

A Quick 10-minute Guide on Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry is a relatively new form of art gaining popularity over the past few years. It was initially developed in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until recently, with social media and sites like Twitter, that it became such an exciting way to express oneself. This article will teach you how to write blackout poetry from scratch!

Table of Contents

What is Blackout poetry?

Blackout poetry is a style of poetry that removes words from a text to leave specific phrases. The original idea was to use a black marker and a newspaper to cross out words, but now people use computers to create the same effect. It’s an unusual way of taking away details for you as a writer or poet to focus on what is most important- your message!

The history of Blackout Poetry

French journalist and performance artist Tristan Tzara founded Dadaism during World War 1 in Zurich. He would often grace the stage wearing a hat and holding newspapers, cutting out words from them before reading those pieces aloud to his audience like poetry during the early  1900s

Brion Gysin and William S Burroughs dubbed this technique ‘The Cut-Up Method’. They used scissors to cut up prewritten texts then reassembled them into something new or different entirely!

How do I write Blackout Poetry?

First, you will need a theme – That’s the easy part. If you need a few ideas, check out this article containing 52 poetry prompts for your next project. Your theme will help guide your narrative and word selection.

Once you are ready, pick up a magazine or newspaper and a black marker. As the name suggests, we will ‘blackout ‘ and unnecessary words leaving only the ones that speak to us to compose our poem.

Step One: Locate an article that speaks to you.

Flip through the pages until something catches your eye, then stop on it for a while. Read through the article 3 times. The first time you are just browsing the article to get an idea of what it’s about. The second time, peruse the paper or try to read it out loud. The third time, look for keywords that relate to your theme.

Take note of transition words, pronouns and adjectives that will help tell your story. You don’t want your poem to be a bunch of nonsensical words squashed together.

Step Two: Blackout

Now it’s time to create our poem. There are two approaches to this step. You could either ‘freestyle’ and start blacking out your poem, building it out as you go. Or you could plan it out first by drafting what it should say on a separate document to make sure it’s perfect. I prefer the second method, but this one is up to you.

Digital blackout poetry is the same concept as the regular old paper blackout poetry but using Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop or Canva or other similar software.

A disadvantage of digital blackout poetry is the work isn’t as authentic as traditional paper blackout poetry. But I don’t want you to think I’m some old fart who refuses to get with the times. There are several advantages to going digital as well. You don’t have to worry about people spilling coffee on your paper blackout poetry.

If privacy is your concern, then a digital document would work better for security reasons! Right now, I’m working in an open office setting and constantly need to cover my lovey-dovey poetry from my nosey coworkers. It wouldn’t be a concern with digital artwork that I can simply encrypt with a simple password.

Digital artwork is also much easier to directly upload online as many software already have sharing features embedded natively.

What to do with your blackout poem

once your poem is complete, you can add it to your scrapbook, frame it, take a picture of it or whatever you want. If you need a few ideas, here’s our collection of 50 things to do with a poem.

Besides the usual suspects like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, The website Scribd allows you to upload your blackout poem and have it read aloud by one of the many talented narrators on the social media platform.

What’s the difference between a poem and blackout poetry?

When you think about it, there isn’t much of one. It all depends on what kind of style or approach we’re taking to our words at that moment. Poetry has many different passageways and techniques that it should take on, and blackout poems are just one.

I don’t like to think of it as the lesser form because that’s not how I feel about it. I’m writing this article simply, so you have a better idea of what blackout poetry looks and sounds likes, with an emphasis on understanding its significance in both poetry and therapeutic contexts.

Why does blackout poetry exist?

Blackout poetry is challenging, but it can be so much fun when you get into that zone and just flow with your thoughts! It forces us writers who only use limited vocabulary or sentence structures out of our comfort zones, which I think should happen more often in life.

You only need to focus purely on the feeling and let the words come to you. 

Blackout poetry is also a technique used in therapy to help patients work through trauma. Instead of thinking up words to describe a feeling, patients are encouraged to black out words and only let to the surface the ones that closely reflect how they feel. Kalkidan explains this practice in greater detail in her article on Poetry Therapy exercises.

When we’re trying our best to work through trauma or navigate complex topics, the right words can sometimes be hard to come by. Blackout poetry might prove more accessible than traditional poems in that regard, and I highly recommend you give it a try. You might be surprised by what you create. If not, that okay too. There are hundreds of kinds of poetry waiting for you to explore.

Browse Collections By Category

Select from our entire catalogue of poetry collections: