Thursday, September 17, 2020

What Is Blackout Poetry and Why Should You Care?

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Poetry is one of the quintessential facets of literature and is a foundational pillar that constitutes art itself. The beauty of poetry lies in its freedom and general lack of boundaries. Poetry can be whatever you want it to be like rhyme, form, rhythm- none of it is necessary to create a profound poem. Blackout poetry is no different.

Blackout poetry is a groundbreaking exploration of the limits of art. The artform is both a visual feast and an intellectual dream. However, to the uninitiated, blackout poetry can be confusing and hard to understand. To help demystify the genre, keep reading ‘Blackout Poetry: A Breathtaking Genre You Need To Explore.’

What Is Blackout Poetry?

Blackout poetry is a form of erasure poetry that creates new, original works using other texts. This definition is a little long-winded and vague, however, so let us drill down into what exactly this means.

Blackout poetry
Source: Blogspot

To create blackout poetry, you first need to find a text that isn’t your own. This could be a newspaper clipping, magazine advertisement, or even a blog post. Then, the poet grabs a black marker pen (real or virtual – depending on the source material) and redacts ( covers up) all but a few words and phrases in strategic locations.

When these remaining words are read together, it creates a new poem. The blacked outlines develop a piece of visual art that is not unlike a structured painting. In this way, blackout poetry combines the best of both worlds!

Erasure poetry is similar in that it uses words and phrases from another source to create a new piece of work. The difference is that erasure poets simply pick out the words they want and write them down on a separate document, whereas blackout poetry leaves striking black lines and shapes upon the source material. Erasure or blackout poetry could be created out of anything – even this very article. For example, if we select the words in bold from the above paragraph, we can make our very own erasure poem:

Blackout Poetry

Isn’t your own.

Black marker pen

In strategic locations

Creates new art,

Not a painting.

Is Blackout Poetry Stealing?

With the rise of Blackout Poetry as an accepted art form, one begins to wonder if blackout poetry is stealing?

Unlike traditional poetry, backout poets don’t technically write their own words. Many critics believe that to be definitive proof that blackout poetry is plagiarism! However, this view may not be entirely true. To understand why this is, let us look at what originality is.

A Criticism of Originality

The main argument against blackout poetry is that another author wrote the words and phrases that the blackout poet then ‘steals.’ It has even been said that blackout poetry plagiarises government and secret service files (which are heavily redacted to protect sensitive information). However, can you really have a claim on words?

Blackout poetry
A heavily redacted US Gov file
Source: sunlight foundation

Nobody ‘invents’ words when they write. All words are learned either by hearing them as children or studying then later in life. A blackout poet selecting words from a newspaper or blog post is no different from a novelist using the words in a dictionary to write an ‘original’ narrative. The only copyright an author has is on the order of the words, not the words themselves.

In fact, if we follow that logic, is anything truly original? Every book, poem, and the script is a reorganization of the same 26 letters that make up every other piece of literature in the world. How can you be sure that every single phrase in any piece of writing is one hundred percent unique?

Pablo Picasso famously said, ‘Art is Theft’ and that ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal.’ These quotes perfectly encapsulate the fundamental element of art in that it tells us that other works inform all pieces of art. Trying to recreate what an artist does is stealing, but admiring an artist’s work to the point where you make something new out of it – that is true art.

Blackout poetry
A page from Austin Kleon’s book ‘steal like an artist.’
Source: WordPress

For example, if a painter decides to paint a picture of a mountain, whose idea would that be? After all, that artist is certainly not the first person to have the idea to paint a mountain, nor is he the first to paint that specific mountain. He is definitely not the first to come up with the idea of using paint or brushes or even a canvas. So, how can that painting be original at all?

Clearly, we can see that originality is a preposterous idea and that nothing is truly original. Blackout poetry is the same – it is not inherently better or worse than traditional poetry.

Why Should You Care About Blackout Poetry?

Like any new media, Blackout poetry is the subject of heavy criticism from staunch traditionalists and literary ‘gatekeepers.’ Most people don’t understand the appeal of blackout poetry. The general consensus seems to be ‘I could do that!’. So, to understand why you should care about blackout poetry, we need to consider why it is an important genre.

The best kind of art pushes boundaries. Art that is new, different, and unorthodox is the art that drives progress.

Cubism, modern art, freeform poetry, and even rap music were once frowned upon and are now beacons of innovation in their respective fields. Blackout poetry falls under this category. Let us explore what makes this genre so beautiful.

Blackout poetry
Cubist painting by Picasso that was once frowned upon
Source: Flickr

Austin Kleon is a pioneer in the blackout poetry genre, famous for popularizing the art form and bringing into the mainstream. His style is distinctively minimalist. Each poem is only a few words long (only about five percent of the original text remains). There is no rhyme scheme, no form, no drawings or figures upon the text, and the source material is almost always a newspaper article.

Blackout poetry
Poem by Austin Kleon
Source: Flickr

Austin Kleon’s style is fascinating because it is boundless. The poet does not limit himself to any of the traditional parameters of poetry. There is no structure, rhythm, or rhyme and so the message remains unsullied by any bells and whistles.

The poems range from witty observations and amusing anecdotes to profound musings and emotional searchings. Whilst a lot of amateur blackout poets tend to rely on the visual aspect of the genre as a crutch.

While Austin Kleon describes himself as a ‘writer who draws,’ he never actually sketches anything. Austin Kleon goes in the opposite direction and keeps the actual ‘blackout’ reasonably simple.

This has a strikingly, simple, and brilliantly bold effect. It is a brazen, confident commitment to the minimalist style that makes the poetry ultimately more respectable. Kleon lets the words do the talking, and that confidence is inspiring.

Blackout poetry
A witty blackout poem by Austin Kleon Source: Flickr

Many new artists are wary of trying something completely different for fear that they will not be considered ‘serious artists.’ Kleon somehow managed to avoid all these pitfalls. He found a niche that he enjoyed, and he didn’t feel the need to dilute his artistic vision with frills and bows in order to be taken ‘seriously.’ He was unafraid to be silly or humorous, and that was the key to his success and the success of blackout poetry as a whole.

Other blackout poets experiment more with the visual side of the poetry. They draw images on the source text, either using the same black marker or using additional colors and mediums. The image usually relates to the poem or at least enhances it in some way.

Blackout poetry
Source: saosaat.blogspot.com

Some blackout poets don’t actually ‘draw’ anything and instead focus on getting creative with the ‘blackout’ itself. Spirals, spikes, even brushstrokes are used to create a different aesthetic that better fits with the tone of the poem. For example, Austin Kleon’s poem ‘A Slow Winding’ (which is about ballerinas) uses spirals instead of harsh black lines to create a gentler look that mimics both the title and the subject matter.

So, it seems that blackout poetry is endlessly creative. Everything is customizable in this artform, even down to the bold black lines that give blackout poetry its name! The genre is new, it is fun, and most importantly, it is exciting!

Is Blackout Poetry ‘Too Simple?’

Even after this exploration of the magic of blackout poetry, there will still be people that do not appreciate this minimalist style of poetry. That feeling of ‘anybody could do that!’ is a difficult one to combat!

If you are one of those people who believe art needs to be technical in order to be ‘good,’ ask yourself why you feel that way?

Blackout poetry
Source: itchingforbooks

After all, isn’t the whole point of art that it is an expression of individuality? If we start policing what is and is not legitimate art, how is it any different from maths or science? The freedom to create needs to remain free from the rules and restrictions that make other disciplines so suffocating.

Just because something is easy to do, does not mean it is any less valuable. There is a level of commitment, conviction, and courage you need to have in order to present your work to the world.

To allow yourself to be judged that way is frightening, and the willingness to be vulnerable to share their art with the world is what makes poets impressive, more than their actual work. Blackout poets dared to be different, and that alone deserves our respect. Art is about permissions and not rules.

So, the next time someone snidely proclaims ‘I could do that!’, simply reply with ‘yes, but you didn’t.’

Why You Should Try Blackout Poetry:

Everyone should try blackout poetry at least once in their lives. Whether you are an artist, a writer, a critic, or just a regular person who has never created art before – blackout poetry can offer many new insights that can broaden your view of the world.

Blackout poetry
Poem by Austin Kleon, Source: Blogspot

Creating anything is a liberating experience but creating blackout poetry is especially so. Allow yourself to be free of rules, restrictions, and expectations. Once you experience the freedom to create whatever you want, you will never go back. It is the perfect gateway to learning how to express yourself through literature and art.

If you are already a writer, blackout poetry can still be extremely helpful to you. Poet Austin Kleon himself said in his book, Steal Like an Artist, that he started creating newspaper blackout when he was having a particularly impenetrable bout of writer’s block.

Coming up with words from the depths of your soul is (obviously) not an easy task. As an experienced writer will tell you, the best way to get over your writer’s block is to start writing!

Write something, anything, to get your creative juices flowing. However, even coming up with your own words can be a herculean task! This is where blackout poetry comes in.

In blackout poetry, the words are all laid out in front of you, and all you have to do is cherry-pick the words you want. No matter what you end up creating, it will be better than writing nothing and wallowing in your mental block. Blackout poetry is guaranteed to improve your writer’s block.

Even if you are skeptical about the art form, you should try creating your own blackout poetry. You might learn something about the art (or about yourself) from it.

What Can We Learn From Blackout Poetry?

Blackout poetry is an innovative experiment in the boundaries (or lack thereof) of art. Blackout poetry is all about rejecting the norms and defying expectations. When traditional art tells us not to use other’s work, blackout poetry asks why not?

When classic art tells us to be skillful and technical, blackout poetry says you can be as simple as you want. When traditional art tells you to follow the rules, blackout poetry tells you to follow your heart.

Art is creativity, and blackout poetry is a testament to that. The genre reminds us that you do not need prodigal talent or ridiculously refined skills to make art. All you need is your heart and your brain and a will to express yourself. Saying what you want to say when you want to say it is the entire purpose of literature.

Blackout poetry
Source: kitskorner

Blackout poetry reminds us that all you need is a little imagination and a spoonful of creativity to be an artist. Most importantly, it teaches us that art is meant to be shared by everyone, and nothing should stop you from enjoying it.

Be sure to read more articles like this.

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