Write an Erasure Poem: A Mass Poetry Project

A guest blog post by Erica Charis-Molling, Librarian at the Central Library

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Mass Poetry is asking for submissions of erasures, or blackout poetry. Erasures are poems that are created by erasing or blacking out an existing text. The poem is read by reading the words that are left after the other words are removed or covered.

The poem is about six lines of text that have been redacted. The un-redacted version reads "how am I to live with this shrinking nervous heart -"
Taken from Flickr Creative Commons. Attribution to: //sugar at https://www.flickr.com/photos/60352223@N07/

Mass Poetry, as a member of the National Poetry Coalition, is specifically seeking erasures of political documents “including the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and the speech ‘Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons’ Malala Yousafzai delivered to the UN.” Originals of those documents, in various sizes, are available for download through the submission website. The deadline to send Mass Poetry a blackout poem is April 30. Selected poems will be displayed on their website, social media, and some will appear on the MBTA or other public spaces.

Photo of a person removing parts of a test to create an erasure poem
Photo credit to: Mass Poetry. Taken from http://www.masspoetry.org/poetrycoalition2019

Of course, the Mass Poetry website isn’t the only place you could look for political documents to transform into poems! The City Charter of Boston is available through the Hathi Trust Digital Library, along many other historic documents. The Boston Public Library Research Guide of Historic Congressional Committee Hearings and Reports links to texts from the Dust Bowl hearings, the Pearl Harbor Attacks, the Watergate Scandal, and more. Digital Commonwealth has a number of document collections available online as well. Their Anti-Slavery documents or even their scanned advice columns might inspire you. Any of these could be used to make a blackout poem!

Erasure poems can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. At their simplest, all you need is an existing text and a sharpie or dark marker. If you’re feeling inspired, you can break out the paints and paint a scene over the text. Or if you’re more crafty than artsy, you can do the same with yarn, felt, or scrapbook supplies. Anything you could dream up to cover the text you want to erase is fair game!

This is a piece of artwork with a poem pasted on top from cut up pieces of text. The poem reads, "The High Priestess
Used with permission from Casey Roland, https://www.caseylynnroland.com/

For examples of erasure poems, or just to read for fun, check out these titles from our collection:

R E D

Newspaper Blackout

Zong!

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