Poststructural Poetry

Blackout Poetry

Blackout Poetry

Calling all dead authors: blackout and cut up. This creative learning task is designed to reinforce some of the key concepts of poststructuralism by getting students to make blackout poetry. The task is specifically designed to correspond with this online lesson content but may be easily adapted.

Critical concepts: poststructuralism, aesthetics, cut-up techniques, textuality.
Creative task: make blackout poetry.
Author: Dr Jodie Taylor, SAE Creative Media Institute.

Poststructural Aesthetics

Creative methods such as remix, collage, bricolage, mashups, citation, appropriation, adaptation and the like, are practical applications of poststructuralist discourse and approaches to creativity. Artistic originality, the authenticity and autonomy of the art object, and the author’s domination of the meaning-making process. Follow this link to read further: Roland Barthes (1969). The death of the Author.

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What is blackout poetry?

Blackout poetry is the brainchild of author, cartoonist and web designer Austin Kleon, who developed this technique by working with discarded copies of The New York Times. The basic idea is to take a section of a newspaper, black out the majority of the words with a pen or marker, and make a poem out of the ones remaining.

Blackout poems are as much about the visual aesthetic you create as they are about the literary aesthetic of the text you create.

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How do I write a blackout poem?

  1. Find a piece of text (any text) you can use as your canvas. This could be an old newspaper, some street press, or a page of printed text from the web. If you want to reinforce what we have learnt about aesthetics in the last few weeks, why not print this entry on ‘Aesthetics’ from the online edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and use that as your canvas. I have converted it into a word doc for easy digital editing which you can download here.

  2. Devise a theme or let the text you choose speak to you. The only advice I can give you here is be creative! Take a look at this site if you’re really stuck for ideas.

  3. Using a permanent marker cross out or eliminate whatever words or images you see as unnecessary or irrelevant to the effect you’re seeking to create. The central idea is to devise a completely new text from previously published words and images. While some people choose to neatly black out the words, other scribble or draw lines from one word to another. There are no rules as to how it “should” be done.

  4. Take a photo of your blackout poem and post it to your student forum or tweet it to @CIU_SAE for all to see.

  5. You’re done 🙂

A brief note on aesthetics.

Poets have been rearranging words since the Dadaist and Surrealist movements of the 1920s. For example, poet Tristan Tzara started a riot at a surrealist rally by proposing to randomly pull words out of a hat to create new works.

Beat writer William Burroughs and the artist Brion Gysin, known predominantly for his rediscovery of the Dada master Tristan Tzara’s cut-up technique, worked together in the early 1960s on a publishing project that used a chance based cut-up method. The above image is one of their works from a series called The Third Mind.

A cut-up method consists of cutting up and randomly reassembling various fragments of something to give them a completely new and unexpected meaning. e.g. 1+1=3.

You can try it out here if you want the full effect.

Cure writer’s block with writing prompts, exercises, generators & gizmos

Cure writer’s block with writing prompts, exercises, generators & gizmos

Unlike these approaches, however, blackout poets are built around short pieces of text, which the creator uses to build a mood or create a specific effect.

According to poet Jennifer Ravey, “What I like is that someone created a map out of theirs, so it became not just the words, but also the image,” she said. “It’s like e.e.cummings — the structure is part of the meaning.”

I wonder then, what we might call such an aesthetic: one that values structured deconstruction? Perhaps blackout poetry is a kind of structural postmodernism? What do you think?


The Classroom | Synonym,. (2015). What Are Blackout Poems? | The Classroom | Synonym. Retrieved 27 February 2015, from 

The Art Studio, Inc.,. (2013). Uncovering Poetry. Retrieved 21 February 2015, from,. (2015). AUSTIN KLEON is a writer who draws.. Retrieved 20 February 2015, from

Make Blackout Poetry,. (2015). Make Blackout Poetry. Retrieved 27 February 2015, from,. (2015). :: SCAN | journal of media arts culture ::. Retrieved 27 February 2015, from

Uncovering Poetry

Austin Kleon is a writer who draws.

spiral (verb) 1. to move in the shape of a spiral 2. to continuously become worse, more, or less I began the month joking that I was just ” trying not to spiral out,” and I’m winding down the month by intentionally spiraling out with a new little exercise for my morning pages in my diary.