Blackout poetry is one of many forms of found poetry. A found poem is a poem that uses any existing text to create something new. Some poems found show the original text while others reveal only the newly created poem. Blackout poetry mostly falls into the latter. More importantly, blackout poetry can get this smart!

Blackout poetry shows part of the original text, but usually not all of the original words are visible. The extent to which the original text shows through depends on the method the poets choose to create their new poem. I promise the cunning will come.

The methods of creating blackout poetry are many. These methods result in poems that can be blackout-contiguous if you don’t want to put all of them in the same category. Erase poems are blackout poems – or they are a type of blackout poetry – or blackout poetry can be a type of erase poem. Here you decide:

An erasure poem is a type of found poetry that the poet creates by deleting, hiding, blackening, cutting, whitening, or literally erasing words from pre-existing text.

See? It’s all kind of the same, but also different.

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Examples of blackout poetry

Here are some examples to make blackout poetry a little more concrete (concrete as understandable, not concrete as in the form of concrete poetry, which is an entirely different category).

Form N-400 deletions by Niina Pollari

Here’s a 100% blackout poem that appears in New York Tyrant Magazine. Pollari uses the text of a naturalization application as a source. The poet then uses a black marker to black out any words surrounding the words of choice. The words of choice become a new poem. This poem uses the application words to comment on the naturalization process. Sometimes the goal of the poem is to use the source’s words to comment on the source’s original meaning.

“Ferrum” [excerpt] by M. NorbeSe Philip

This poem uses legal language as a source. The space around the words is similar to using the black marker to black out the words. This is more of a wipe than a blackout, but the idea and process are similar.

Matthea Harveys Of Lamb and if the tabloids are true then what are you? both contain poems that use whiteout instead of a black marker to make the words of an original source white. They are obscuration poems that are more like Pollari’s poem.

Choosing a method

One line through

Draw just a line through the surrounding words so that all of the original text appears but the poem comes through in the words that are not crossed out. Use the strikethrough option in your word processor or a paper pen or pencil.


The exclamation mark is the most valuable punctuation mark you have in your arsenal, but it’s also the most dangerous. When used correctly, a single exclamation point can set a bright tone, instill excitement, and even demonstrate interest.


Block out the surrounding words completely so that the only original text that appears is the words of the poem. Use the highlighting option in your word processor and choose black or a dark color, or use a marker in printed form. We see this in the Pollari example above.


Completely block the surrounding words as above but in print with whiteout. We see this in the Harvey example above.

Cut out

Use printed text as the original source. Cut out the surrounding words so that literal holes appear where the text was and the remaining page contains the poem. Use scissors or an X-Acto knife in print. Karen Massey’s “Hemaris Difinis” shows this method in a publication by Silver Birch Press. This is super smart!


Circle or draw a box around words, then connect them with a line across the page, across the columns, in any direction so the poem doesn’t follow the linear text. You can combine this method with other methods, such as: For example, draw a line through or black out with one color and then draw the map lines with another.

Example of mapping black-out poetry.Assignment example with a random selection page from June 2013

In 2019, the then 16-year-old Jewel Guerra won a blackout poetry competition organized by the New York Times. Her award-winning blackout poem “Stars” resembles a map that uses the image of space to block the words around it.


Get out your crayons and colored pencils. Select the words in your poem, then draw or shade them to blacken out the source text you are not using. The drawing can be the poem or just shading.

Image of drawing blackout poetry. Drawing example with a random page from Publisher’s Weekly. She is smart!


While attending the AWP conference in Portland, Oregon, I found Poets for Science, curated by Jane Hirshfield. It was there that I wrote my first app-based blackout poem. Sitting at an iPad station, I scrolled through some source code until I found an article on water balloons and physics. Then I clicked on certain words to make them darker or lighter. In the end I had a poem about science and also about humanity, that with the Wick Poetry Center Emerge application. Digital sophistication!

Example of digital blackout poetry.

[Side note: Science has the best words!]

This isn’t the only digital blackout option in town. As mentioned earlier, you can do a lot of blackout poetry with Word. You can also use power outlet if you want to get a little fancier.

Blackout Bard: Blackout Poetry is a free app with in-app purchases. The rabbit hole for selection in this app is quick: pick a source; select text font and color; Select background color; Select background image; Select blackout color. There is more. The rabbit hole is deep, my friends.

Blackout Poetry Maker at works similarly. There is a source code on the screen. You then click on words. Then click on Black Out. Then you have a poem.

Also, remember to play around with the apps you may already be using on your phone. Try the markup feature on your iPhone. See what you can do with Moldiv or Picstitch. You may already have apps that are right for you.

How to actually “write” the poem

1. Choose your source. It can be anything in words. Here’s a favorite of mine from A Very Curious Mind.

2. Decide whether you want to make a statement about the source or write a poem using its diction.

3. Read it once without doing anything.

4. Read it again and highlight, circle, underline or tick the words you notice.

5. Choose your method – are you really smart with scissors and glue? Grab Your Pastel Kit? Are you charging your word processor?

6. Create / write / rewrite / remix your poem.

7. Share with the world – or keep it to yourself.

For more information on blackout poetry, check out this interview with Austin Kleon.
For poems based on art, check out this guide to ecphrastic poetry.
As always, more information can be found in the poetry archives.