In a world of overstimulation, bright screens and sensory overload, blackout poetry challenges the norms of creating art. Rather than adding words to a page, blackout poetry focuses primarily on the art of redaction. The artist selectively eliminates or “blacks out” parts of the text while highlighting keywords. Whatever remains is the sum of the hidden layers of the mind. Making blackout poetry can be as simple or as elaborate as the creator desires. Whether you’re blacking out words with a permanent marker or paint pictures over the text, practicing blackout poetry offers a peek into the subconscious mind. This creates an immense opportunity to learn more about oneself, heal trauma, be present, and perhaps even combat certain blocks within the psyche.
John Carroll’s Journey
In his most recently published book, “Make Blackout Poetry: Turn These Pages Into Poems,” John Carroll provides creators with pages of text to transform into blackout poetry. The book includes pages from newspapers, works by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and more. It makes for a great introduction to the world of blackout poetry where you can have a set space for your work and reflect throughout each poem. Carroll has created a community of over 66,000 artists on his Instagram for artists to connect and share their work through the #makeblackoutpoetry tag.
Carroll’s journey with blackout poetry began during a darker period in his life. While work was steady, he didn’t feel fulfilled in certain areas. He discovered this art form on a popular blog and began doing some exercises. Carroll challenged himself to create one blackout poem per day for an entire year. “Blackout is interesting. It’s almost like you’re making a sculpture.” Carroll mentions.
Everything you need is right in front of you. “The words that are meant for you at that moment will stick out to you. All you need to do is black out the rest.” Carroll shares. During our conversation, he mentions his story deals with painful moments, but hope has proven to be the best pavement in honoring love. It’s a perspective-shifting experiment. For example, two people can look at the same sheet of paper and create two different blackout poems. With practice, this allows for internal expansion and healing.
Heal with Blackout Poetry
While Carroll admits some of his earlier poems were very dark, the more he continued to create Carroll noticed a pattern, a gentle nudge from his subconscious. As Carroll began to focus on positivity, his poems centered around love and hope. This is quite evident in his previously published book, “Hidden Messages of Hope,” a collection of poems reflecting on life, love, and hope in everyday life.
“The one that made me realize I was doing something powerful, Carroll mentions, was ‘Life disappears warn people.’”
It’s a beautiful reminder to live life to the fullest while keeping an important truth evident in the message.
Blackout poetry serves as a good point of reference to measure what sticks out to you on a page and compare it to the instances that stick out in life—good or bad.
“You’re going to see words that mean something to you or words that are on your mind and it’s a good reflection of self.”
When things get on the darker side, one is able to channel their focus and redirect their energy where necessary.
Carroll continues to inspire others to create through his work and by hosting workshops near his hometown. His Instagram page is a call to action in itself, @makeblackoutpoetry.
Take your shot at this art and explore the depths of your mind. The art of making blackout poetry is a micro out of a macro experience of our everyday lives. We see what we want to see—what we choose to see. Redact the unnecessary. Discover a new point of view.
Tips on How to Get Started
- Gather your materials. You’ll need a black permanent marker and a body of text such as a newspaper or page from a book. As you develop your skills you might consider using paint or other materials to create art around your blackout poem.
- Skim through your selected page noticing any words that stick out or call to you. Circle or box the words to highlight them from the rest of the page
- Begin to black out the rest of the words on the page
- Challenge yourself to do a poem every day. Look at your poems and see how your perspective has changed or developed over time. Are there thing you might be focusing on that you want to change or delve into? There is an entire community built around this art form and you might even find yourself sharing your work with others.
Making blackout poetry is a fun and rewarding exercise. Rather than staring at a blank page and dumping thoughts or feelings, blackout poetry asks you to delve into the quieter thoughts and really listen to them. It draws our attention to what is hidden beneath the surface and boils it down to what we’re truly made of. The beautiful part is that you get to decide where it takes you. May you always choose love and hope.
Written by Michelle Estevez