How to Create an Erasure Poem

According to the American Academy of Poets , an erasure is where a poet takes a text and erases portions of the text to create a poem. Erasure poetry is also called blackout poetry. It is considered a found poem. Creating erasures is a strategy you can use to avoid being stuck in your writing. It also can be a tool to expand your vocabulary and engage in creative play with words.

Erasures can created be from a variety of texts. I recommend using texts that won’t get you into trouble with copyright infringement. Be conscious of plagiarism when you are working with the text. Here are some ideas for texts: dictionary, cookbook, hymnals,  song lyrics, religious text, magazine, newspaper articles, poems you have written, vintage books. 

Here’s how you can create one. 

  1. Select a text.

Remember aim for a text that is in public domain.

2. Pick a writing utensil.

I like to use a pencil because I can erase if I feel the urge. But a pencil or a black sharpie can work.

3. Start erasing.

Allow yourself to enter a flow as you do this. Don’t overthink your choices. You are not analyzing the poem or being overly critical. This activity is not about creating the perfect poem. Your goal is to find a poem within the text. Within one text lies several poems. Your goal is to simply find one.

4. Stop

Whenever you feel you have created a poem, cease erasing. 

Now that you know the best method, here are some variations you can try with technique. 

  1. Scrabble

Type of up the words or phrases that remain. Cut a strip of each word of phrase and play around with the order. Glue or tape the strips on a piece of paper. It’s fun if you do a couple of variations and see which one is stronger. 

You also could cut up a erasure poems and put the strips in envelopes to pull out whenever you feel stuck with your writing. It can get you out of your rut.

  1. Haiku

Make a haiku from the words that remain.

2. Rainbow

Pick 3-4 colored pencils or markers.  Highlight words you want to keep. You can be totally random with how you color them or you can create a color code. For example, every verb could be highlighted blue and every noun highlighted in pink. The visual image of your poem will create a different effect and allow you to experience the poem differently. The highlighting may also be soothing. 

3. Combo

Select a few texts that may be related to the poems you are currently working on. Use them to give you inspiration for your new poem or as creative play for when you feel stuck. For example, let’s say you are writing a river in your hometown. You could have dictionary definitions of words related to the river, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries or lyrics about the river.

4. Digital

If you are not into pen and paper, you can create an erasure online at this website

Learn about other varieties here.

If you want to read a published collection of erasures, check out poet Quenton Baker who created a book about the Creole—the most successful on a U.S. slave ship.

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