Words are the lifeblood of poetry. They rhythmically meander through the open spaces on a page to creating metaphorical connections between the physical and emotional worlds. More traditional, by traditional, I mean well-known or classic, types of poetry are easier to differentiate from one another due to their dependence on specific formatting, rhyme schemes, and or meter. In contrast to redacted poetry, which can be cumbersome, or just confusing due to its multiple aliases, to differentiate from other forms of found poetry. Please know that the purpose of this article is to provide clear examples of several art forms that influenced redacted poetry; with deliberate use of laymen’s terms so that every reader and redacted poetry enthusiast will gain a better understanding of the art forms
Please note that this article was written with the redacted or blackout poetry enthusiast in mind. The selected forms and types explained in this article all rely on creating some type of art from an existing work and each had a significant influence on the form of found poetry we know today as blackout poetry (or redacted poetry, or censor poetry, etc.). In an effort to avoid complicating the content with formal and possibly unfamiliar writing vocabulary, you will find definitions written in layman’s terms. At the end of this article you will find extensive sources to continue your pursuit of poetry.
Found poetry: A Found poem typically utilizes words that are only found in the source material. But, over time, it has come to evolve, and poets have devised ways to employ found language. Through “rearranging the order of words, inserting line-breaks and stanzas, or simply adding a new language,” poets have created a variated multiplicity of found poetry approaches. Examples of found poetry include dada poetry, blackout poetry, cut-up and remix poetry, erasure poetry, acrostic poetry, and golden shovels and centos. Let’s create an example together. First, let’s use an excerpt from the work featured in The New Yorker by Chang-Rae Lee entitled, Coming Home, Again (1995, p. 5–6):
“From that day, my mother prepared a certain meal to welcome me home. It was always the same. Even as I rode the school’s shuttle bus from Exeter to Logan airport, I could already see the exact arrangement of my mother’s table. I knew that we would eat in the kitchen, the table brimming with plates. There was the kalbi, of course, broiled or grilled depending on the season. Leaf lettuce, to rap the meat with. Bowls of garlicky clam broth with miso and tofu and fresh spinach. Shavings of cod dusted in flour and then dipped in egg wash and fried. Glass noodles with onions and shiitake. Scallion-and-hot-pepper pancakes. Chilled steamed shrimp. Seasoned salads of bean sprouts, spinach, and white radish. Crispy squares of seaweed. Steamed rice with barley and red beans. Homemade kimchi. It was all there — the old flavors I knew, the beautiful salt, the sweet, the excellent taste… I wish I had paid more attention. After her death, when my father and I were the only ones left in the house, drifting through the rooms like ghosts, I sometimes tried to make that meal for him. Though it was too much for two, I made each dish anyway, taking as much care as I could. But nothing turned out quite right — not the color, not the smell. At the table, neither of us said much of anything. And we had to eat the food for days.”
I’ve bolded words in the excerpt to represent the “found” words for our found poem. Now, let’s connect the bolded words from Lee’s work to create an entirely new poem:
My mother prepared
To welcome me home.
We would eat in the kitchen
Kalbi, leaf lettuce to wrap the meat
Garlicky clam broth with miso and tofu and fresh spinach
Shavings of cod
Scallion and pepper pancakes
Chilled steamed shrimp
The old flavors I knew
Beautiful, salt, sweet, excellent
I wish I had paid more attention
Since we all have unique creative processes, you’ll notice a seemingly infinite variety of styles and variations within found poetry. Let’s explore the variations of found poetry and other art forms that are closely related to, if not direct influencers of, redacted poetry: cento, dada, cut-up, and erasure.
Cento: Cento, the Latin term derived from Greek, κεντρόνη, meaning “patchwork garment,” is composed entirely of lines from other works, essentially creating a collage of prose hinging on the poet’s creative ability to bring lines from other authors together in unison, and turn it into a new original work. With cento, the writer does not edit, but, instead, compiles. Focused on arrangement and form, the poet leaves portions of the original work intact, but completely remastered and reimagined.
Dada: For readers of the Offbeat Poetry article, History of Blackout Poetry, Tristan Tzara and dada are back again; as promised. Dada was an art movement that gained traction in Europe, particularly Paris, during the early twentieth century. Richard Huelsenbeck, a German artist living in Zurich at the time, claims that the name “dada” originated from thumbing through a French-German dictionary. The term “Dada” is ‘yes, yes’ in Rumanian, and “rocking horse” or “hobby horse” in French. Others believe that the name “dada” was intentionally chosen because of its nonsensical and playful or childish nature. The Dada movement spanned the globe, reaching Zürich, Switzerland; New York, U.S.A.; and Paris, France. The Dada movement had spread like wildfire amongst artists who refused to accept the conventional rules, aestheticism, and reasoning of capitalist society at the time. These avant-garde artists voiced their objection of the war, society, and conventions through nonsensical, irrational, and anti-bourgeois works. Dadaist art cut across visual, literary, and sound media, and they would often register their discontent with wars, violence, and nationalism through collages, cut-up writing, sculpture, and sound poetry. The process behind the generation of a dada poem — as proposed by Tzara — was to create a poem by randomly pulling out words cut out of an existing publication and stringing them together in the order they were pulled from the hat. Expectedly, the outcome usually made no sense whatsoever. Here’s an example of what a Dada poem might look like by drawing words generated from the paragraph above randomly:
“Influencers cut movement often media randomly; usually because register why refused nonsense traction.”
Of course, the nature of dadaist poems spurred unrelenting outrage amongst the critic community, but that was exactly what the Dadaist movement meant to achieve. Here are the steps, according to Tzara in Dada form, simply titled To Make a Dadaist Poem (1920):
Want to have some fun with Dada? Click here to experiment with an online dada poetry generator.
Cut-up and Remix Poetry (Decoupe): As with poems of the Dadaists, cut-up and remix poetry can also be random. The difference is that, unlike dada poetry, the writer of a cut-up and remix poetry can opt (and most often do) to arrange and organize the found words into stanzas and grammatical lines. Once they have the words they need, the unwanted words are tossed off. Beat generation and postmodernist author, William Burroughs, was a major proponent of the cut-up technique in the late 50s and during the early ’60s. Burroughs’ approach was to take source material, then divide its pages into quarters that he rearranged and turned into poems. Or, as an alternative, he’d fold the ages of the source material to merge lines and form “unexpected juxtapositions” (Jackie Craven, 2018). However, as mystifying as his cut-up/fold poems were, it was always obvious that Burroughs made calculated choices. Below is Formed in the Stance, a poem Burroughs composed out of an article in the Saturday Evening Post that talked about cures for cancer (1959):
"The girls eat morning
Dying peoples to a white bone monkey
in the Winter sun
touching tree of the house."
Cut-up poems can take on all shapes and themes. The possibilities are endless. Here is another example of a clever cut-up poem entitled, Life Choice by Sherry Hale (2018):
Erasure: An erasure poem is one where the poet obtains a source document and proceeds to erase the portion of the text that he deems unnecessary. With a majority of the text gone, the words remaining form a poem when read in order. Some brilliant examples of erasure poetry include Tom Phillips’ A Humument, Jen Bervin’s Nets, and Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout. The blackout or redacted variation of erasure poetry has expanded into a diverse and dynamic form of its own. Considering the popularity of blackout poetry and prominence in media and culture today, blackout poetry or redacted poetry is no longer just a variation of erasure poetry; but instead, it’s own form of art with subsequent variations.
Redacted (Blackout) Poetry: Redacted poetry, more popularly known as blackout poetry, is a form of found poetry that focuses on taking an existing work, e.g., a newspaper, and crossing out words or images the author feels are unnecessary or lack contribution to the final piece the writer is trying to create. Overall, the main logic behind blackout poetry is to create new material from “previously published words and images,” without altering their position or arrangement in the source material. Similar to cut-up and remix poems, a blackout, or redacted, poem originates from an existing body of text — which is, in most cases, newspaper.
To make a blackout poem, creators traditionally use a black marker to black out most of the text on the page. The creator does this by identifying, the interesting words that will help him create his message. There are several videos and books detailing various methods of creating redacted poetry, including the Redacted Poetry Journal: Create Blackout Poetry by Destroying the Classics by Offbeat Poet (ISBN-13: 978–1725965553).
Unlike cut-up and remix poems, there is no rearrangement of selected texts, the words are not randomly selected (as with dada poetry), but, instead, they are fixed in a single place with the artist, writer, or poet required to be creative and perceptive enough to draw out a message from the sea of words. Austin Kleon, who popularized blackout poetry using newspapers, described the final outcome of a blackout poem as being (Kleon, 2010);
“It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku”
An apt description as the black and white contrast of most blackout poems evoke cover-up, secrecy, and mystery. Blackout poems retain their original typography and word placement, although, some artists may decide to add graphic designs, while others may prefer to let the stark words stand on their own. Here’s an example of a blackout poem redacted from a magazine article, titled, “Creative Child” by Sherry Hale.
Interested in learning more about poetry? Check out the sources and helpful tools listed below. Cheers to Creativity!
Sources & Further Reading
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