Erasure Poems

Erasure poems are an inexpensive and quickly assembled craft project to pull out of your back pocket someday (maybe in April, for National Poetry Month). If you work with creative writing students, I think you’ll like this one. Best of all, it works with a broad range of ages.

I by no means invented this concept. The poet Mary Ruefle is known for her erasures, accomplished by removing pages from books and then whiting out all but a few words. Ruefle “erased” 95% of a book called A Little White Shadow: for the Benefit of a Summer Home for Working Girls, originally published in 1889, to create her art book A Little White Shadow.

Here’s an example page:

Ruefle’s interpretation of erasure poems would be a great use for discarded or “weeded” library books. I’m especially curious how the presence of images might impact an erasure image. It might be something to explore with your students. (Of course, keep in mind that any erasure poem completed with materials under copyright could not be published.) Also, blame all the Fringe I’ve been watching but I also think it’d be interesting to use non-literary books, like an old math or chemistry textbook. I’m tempted to re-purpose the ones I left at my parents’ house when I go home for the holidays.

But, if you don’t have any unwanted books on hand, the newspaper is also an option. Writer and artist Austin Kleon uses newspaper articles and varying pen strokes to create his erasure poems. Show students Kleon’s poems (examples are available on his website, in his book, Newspaper Blackout, and on his Tumblr) and ask them to experiment with different cross-out methods and pens of varying thickness. How do these techniques affect the overall effect?

Of course, the fun doesn’t have to stop when the erasing’s done. Ask students to write their own poem or story, using their erasure poem as a guide. Maybe it’s the first line? Maybe it’s a line of dialogue? Whatever you fancy.

If you decide to use erasure poems with your students, please write to me and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear!

If you liked this, try bookspine poetry. (Link takes you to 100 Scope Note’s 2011 gallery.)

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5 Comments

Filed under Professional Practice, Story Starters

5 responses to “Erasure Poems

  1. Have you seen Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes? Or Gregory Betts’s The Others Raisd in Me, 150 erasure poems made from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 150.

  2. Pingback: Pulitzer Remix | Klickitat

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