Have you heard of Austin Kleon? I’ve been a fangirl of his for a few years now.
Austin is a designer by trade, but he really made his mark on the world through his blackout poetry.
After years of constructing and publishing blackout poems each day, he decided to write a wonderful little book called “Steal Like an Artist.”
It’s a personal yet historical book all about the creative process and its symbiotic and collaborative nature, except in an entirely conversational tone. Its size, unassuming design and casual writing style is misleading – the book really is chock full of deep thoughts, provocative inspirations and easily actionable strategies.
I love mine so much that I’ve circled and starred and scribbled all over it, marking my favorite parts for quick inspiration when I need it:
Kleon has since written a new book called “Show Your Work” which is a great companion to the first. He focuses on not only different ways to share what you're working on, but more importantly, why you should. All in his hey-let's-grab-a-beer style.
Though I’ve read it cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed it, I haven’t gone back to scribble it up yet. That’s next. All in good time.
What I love about his blackout poetry is the simplicity and accessibility of it. Absolutely anyone can do it, and with nothing more than a newspaper clipping and a black marker. Super cheap, super simple.
But the results are anything but. It’s really amazing the different messages and moods he creates. He goes so far as to alter some of his coloring techniques and that adds a fun touch. I’ve always kept mine pretty simple though.
Making black out poetry is a pretty obvious process, but here are some tips:
- Start with a pencil and circle words that seem fun or jump out at you. Play around with them until you come up with a theme or phrase you can piece together.
- Circle all of the words you want to use first, then start coloring in with the black marker.
- Black out the areas around the circled words first, so you know what spaces you want to avoid when coloring in all the extra words. It’s all too easy to get on a roll coloring in lines and skid that marker right over a word that’s part of your poem (ask me how I know…).
- Don’t get stuck on one word or phrase. If you can’t find enough corresponding words on that page to make it work, move on and try another key word.
- The poems need not be grammatically correct, in fact they’re often more charming when they’re a little bit unconventional in the phrasing.
- Try a variety of printed items. I often use cheap paperbacks and of course the theme of the book affects the kinds of words you find on a page. Old Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books are fun for kids, or you can use books that have seen better days and are falling apart. Large print editions of hardcovers lend a different look to the finished poems too. My kids have even done it with junk mail!
- Try to get in the mode of reading the individual words on the page rather than reading the sentences as written – you want your brain to acknowledge each word individually without placing it in a meaningful context so you can create your own unique poem. It’s the exact opposite technique you use when quickly skimming or scanning a page for the theme – in this case you want to ignore the meaning of the page as written and instead hone in on individual words to play around with.
Most of all, have fun with it! It’s practically free and you can do it for a few minutes or for days on end. You can make it structured by incorporating it into language arts teaching or just do it for fun. Its beauty is in the portability and ease of use; it takes just a minute or two to get up and running making your own poems.
Try it and don't forget to show your work!