What Are Blackout Poems?

Blackout poetry focuses on rearranging words to create a different meaning. Also known as newspaper blackout poetry, the author uses a permanent marker to cross out or eliminate whatever words or images he sees as unnecessary or irrelevant to the effect he's seeking to create. The central idea is to devise a completely new text from previously published words and images, which the reader is free to interpret as he wishes.


Blackout poetry is identified as the brainchild of author, cartoonist and web designer Austin Kleon, who hit on the technique to overcome a severe case of writer's block. Working with discarded copies of "The New York Times," Kleon viewed the results as little more than an inspired writing exercise as he stated in a June 2010 interview with Austin University's student newspaper, "The Daily Texan." Popular response to the blackout poems that he posted on his blog led to the April 2010 release of his first book, "Newspaper Blackout," in which he further expounded on the style.


Blackout poets like Kleon search for striking words or images in daily newspapers, which they emphasize by crossing out the unneeded text with a permanent marker, according to guidelines posted on the Newspaper Blackout website.

For best results, it's not necessary to read entire articles before you cross out words since the idea is to create a completely new work. The resulting poem can be read from left to right or from top to bottom, which opens up new interpretations for the reader.


To maximize the effect of a blackout poem, Kleon recommends finding one or two "anchor words" -- or a combination of phrases -- in the newspaper article that you're using. The effect, as Kleon informed "The Austin Chronicle" in April 2010, is similar to revealing a hidden message through a crossword puzzle or word search.

Poets can also draw lines to lead readers from one phrase to another, or focus the eye on a particularly striking image, according to the Art Studio's website. The rules are only as limited as the poet's imagination.


As Kleon has acknowledged, 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.

During the 1950s, Beat writers and poets like William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin literally cut up existing texts, such as newspaper articles, with scissors. 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.