Daily Warm Up – Pick a person and then ask yourself: what is the hardest choice this person has ever had to make?
Poetry day 3, and we’re talking about one of the big rules of poetry, which is that we suggest meaning and connection rather than stating it.
I think one of the best examples of this (ever, like seriously ever) is actually an experiment that Hussein and I did yesterday in class. I’m hoping he’ll let me post pictures of it here:
[insert pictures later if Hussein says yes]
The concrete poem, “Life,” we looked at yesterday is actually a great example of suggestion–it suggests loneliness and abandonment and fear without giving us all the information.
But for today, we’re going to look at a poem called “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa together to talk about what it implies but does not say.
For your experiment, the best way I know to get us out of our traditional comforts with saying what we mean and to force us into SUGGESTING—is to try some erasure poems. Geist.com explains Erasure Poetry this way in their annual contest rules:
What it is:
Erasure poetry begins with an existing piece of text. Letters, words and punctuation are removed—or erased. What is left behind is a new stand-alone poem, one that complements and/or gives new meaning to the Erasure Text.
How it works:
- Each person has a passage of text.
- Erase! The leftover words and letters will form your poem. Do this in any way you like and be creative. The remaining words should take on new shapes and meanings.
- The ONLY RULE is do not change the order of words or letters. You can combine leftover words and letters however you see fit, just as long as they appear in the same order as in the original text.
- Shape the text however you like. Or, leave it as is. Add punctuation and capitalization if the spirit moves you.
- Add a title: it does not have to be from the Erasure Text.
And Robert Lee Brewer, over at Writer’s Digest suggests some further thoughts:
Some erasure poems work with or against the original text; some erasure poems look for completely new and unrelated meanings than the original text; and some erasure poems are just complete nonsense. In the example above, I used one of my recent WritersMarket.com newsletters (which by the way are free to receive, though site subscriptions have a fee).
Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure/blackout poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.
We’ll look at an erasure poem together, too. It’s called “Annunciation Under Erasure” by Mary Szybist (a former Iowa City teacher). In this poem, you can see the original text on the left and the poem she created on the right.
Finally, you can see some other materials and samples that may be helpful here:
- Slide Show About Erasure Poems
- A website/journal full of erasure poetry
- Source Texts You Can Use for Erasure Poems + Software that Helps!
I’ll have some texts that you can use for your erasure in class today.