Last week, Team #MedXLit took on two different mediums of literacy that push back at against what defines writing: #blackoutpoetry and #25wordstory(ies)! While I participated in the #25wordstory portion of class (check out some quick reflections on Twitter!), I didn’t get a chance to try out the #blackoutpoetry that had half the class giggling, sighing, or combining the two in what was clearly an engaging activity!
So I thought I’d give it a go. First, a quick explanation: Blackout Poetry takes a text that has already been authored, be it newsprint, a novel, or even another poem, and plays with the words to create new meaning. Blackout poets take a sharpie to the text and methodically rearrange and remove words to provide a completely new expression from the published work, giving both author and reader liberty to interpret as s/he pleases. For a collection of blackout poetry curated by author Austin Kleon, who posits we should “steal like an artist,” check out this Tumblr page!
From observing my peers who created #blackoutpoetry, I noticed that multiple participants flipped back and forth between exasperation and discovery – but for the entirety of their “maker time,” every participant was straight. up. engaged. They were WAY into this #blackoutpoetry! Taking permanent marker to another author’s work is quite taboo – but out of this previous content, a host of new ideas emerged. The process was noted as bringing out such literacy tools as theme, personification, imagery, metaphor – all in simply paring down a newspaper article. As in the #25wordstory, the poetry was short, giving the reader far more creative agency in interpreting the new piece. So I gave it a couple tries:
“The prosperity of hope symbolized another world. Thrive here. Light the majestic orbs, plant the tree.”
“Ladies, you are not alone. After all, we are in this together. This is indicative of a future.”
“They’re open now. It’s no longer a battle. Hope in whatever they’re going through – symbolism, tales – stay out of that echo chamber.”
I’ll be forthcoming about these poems – they are all influenced by the events of this week’s election. After months and months of complete information overload due to the campaigns, I spent the days after the election somewhat lost in trying to express and debrief. I found it almost cathartic, if not wholly appropriate, to take newsprint and transform it into an expression of my experience with the 2016 elections and their results – as well as to the future influenced by them.
The value of the stories mattered prior to the election in that they gave me perspective and fed the insatiable appetite I had for signs, clues, indicators to the construct of our national character and to the future work we had ahead of us. Now, the stories post-election allowed an outlet for me to distill my thoughts into a brief expression of larger concepts – to turn down the fire hydrant of input and grant a trickle of output. It also shifted my perspective on newsprint – it felt, what is the word, powerful? To take a published piece with an intended effect and to create from it personal meaning was at the same time liberating and challenging. Either way, I certainly felt the engagement that my peers felt as they tried their hand at #blackoutpoetry! I certainly hope you give your students – and yourself – a chance to try this out.