Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Word Survivers of the Blackout

Writer, cartoonist and artist Austin Kleon has a new book coming out in April, 2010 showcasing his Blackout poems. No, they are not poems composed during a blackout--they are poems made by blacking out words in a newspaper and leaving other ones unblacked out. The unblacked-out ones eventually will constitute the poem(s).

Basically, you're limited to the words appearing on that one page and after choosing the words you want, you  then obliterate everything left on the page by covering over it with a black marker pen.  I decided to try it. But the newspaper we receive here is in French. Does it have to be from a newspaper? I turned to the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Poets & Writers and opened it up to a random page, and gave it a go.  I also timed myself.

Wouldn't you know it would be a page with three ads, taking up the entire page:  one for Eastern Kentucky University for their Master of Fine Arts program, one for InstantPublisher.com, an on-line print-on-demand outfit, and one for Carpe Articulum, a Literary Review. No sentences on the page, just bulleted blurbs and deadline dates. Hmmm.  This is not going to be easy.  This is what resulted:

Stern universe,
hard, binding...
any man, a brief master.
Easy, the hidden control of
multiple carp, dead.
Lines?  Don't submit.

That makes absolutely NO sense.  I think I prefer choosing my own words.  This is too much like those word games "Find the Missing Word" or in this case, Find the Words That'll Mean Something If You Can Figure a Way to String Them Together Poetically.

In the future perhaps we'll have Word Vending Machines where when you insert a coin, out'll come a bag of words that you can then take home and ingest ("Eat my words!"), or you can lay them out on the kitchen table, like a puzzle, and see if you can make a poem out of them.  The advantage over those little magnetic refrigerator-door words is that you can always get a fresh supply of new words. Still, the selections are limited. I can imagine wanting to cheat:  "Ah, if I only had a better adjective!!"  And--"Do the words have to be chronological?  Can I move that word on the bottom back up there to the top?"  That sort of thing...

Austin Kleon's newspaper blackout poems are better. To see his collection of the poems on flikr, click here.

I like that idea of a word machine, though.  Unused words could be redeposited back into the machine for others to use.  But the whole idea of blackening out words ... is a tad too redactionary for my taste.  (Government censors, take note,  if this trend catches on, it might result in a shortage of black markers!)

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