Dornsife Workshop: Blackout and Crossout Poems and Stories

Description of Workshop
(Happening at Dornsife Center at Drexel University, Nov. 3, 4-6 p.m.)

Black-out and Cross-out Poems and Stories

There’s a strategy for making poems and stories and art that has come to be known as “black-out.” It’s called that because it involves marking out or partially marking out words or images on pages. This is a close cousin to “found” art, or writing based on found materials. These poems or stories can be all about the words, or, they can contribute to a visual work of art.

Why try this? Using this method to write or make art has a way of engaging language in unexpected ways. It can have a lot of heart and humor. It can turn a story on its head. It can make a strong impact by how it combines word and image. It can reveal hidden, subtle messages by the very way it removes or obscures certain words or parts of words. It can act as social critique. Perhaps most importantly, it sure feels like playing. So the activity has a way of helping you to get started with a new story or poem. And while it may feel like play, it may lead you to serious insights.

In this writing workshop, everyone will write and share numerous works based on books and texts that will be available. In addition, feel free to bring your own book that you think you might like to use in your writing. Old newspapers and magazines work well, also. If you are drawn to collaborative works, or to art that combines words and pictures, you should have a great time in this workshop.

Examples/Background
Works by Austin Kleon
This time-lapse video shows Kleon making a poem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPAkoPsX0gA
Another example: Blackout poem process
This one is also an example of how this form (particularly when using newspaper articles) can be a great way to critique or comment.

Tom Phillips Humument Page
This extensive website not only gives the background to Phillips’ Humument projects, it has hundreds of images and ideas.
Maybe it will inspire you to create your own project or series of connected works.
Scroll through the pages of the “treated book”:
http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/humument/slideshow/1-50/item/5847-page-1

Examples from “Love, Teach” class
You can find many examples of blackout poetry online. These examples from the “Love, Teach” blog  struck me as poignant. I could imagine these poems (for the individual writers) as the start of some longer works, perhaps including the pages, perhaps using the pages as inspiration for how the words could be used across the “field” of a blank page.

Review of Travis Macdonald’s The O Mission Repo
The reviewer notes how Macdonald uses an entirely “worldly” text (as opposed to literary).
The O Mission Repo (Philadelphia’s Fact-Simile Press), is based on The 9/11 Commission Report.

The Plan 
Write, share, write, share–simple as that.
Cutting, pasting, and drawing will happen, also.

ValerieBlackoutDraftDornsife
Draft of Blackout Poem based on Dream Interpretation book

Some tips for teachers or for your individual practice–
–Allow plenty of time for a little planning and pre-writing.
View some examples (for example from Kleon links above).
Talk about previous experiences with this style of writing.
Most importantly, give a few minutes to find the right source-text.
Choosing a page or text you feel resonates with you–that speaks to you–may be important.

Recommended: read the source carefully, at first. Make a few notes, a few underlinings–in preparation for the drawng part.

–Have those Sharpies ready! But also have colored pencils, regular pencils, graphite pieces (and perhaps other materials) on hand. Different writers like different materials and implements.

–People settle into this–let them do so. They begin w. some note-taking, but proceed to a kind of combination of reading/drawing, etc. Not rushing at the start seems important.

–Have “back-up” pages ready. Someone who doesn’t want to use a newspaper article might prefer a page from a literary work. Old self-help books, cookbooks, and so on can be good sources. In Dornsife, many students chose pages from a dream interpretation book–this seemed very fruitful. Many also chose an article from NYTimes or Inquirer on a current event–also very successfully.

–Allow at least 30 minutes. If someone finishes (and time allows), encourage them to start a second one.
In the Dornsife workshop, everyone wrote for about 80 minutes (with some brief discussion/sharing at the midpoint, and then at the end).

–Follow up. If possible, find a way to share finished works (as many will finish their works later, or replicate this activity and come up with something they are eager to share).

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