Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Weekly Scribblings #43: Found Poems and Erasures

We haven’t gone in for form prompts very much in this community, but I like them. If ever I'm stuck with my writing, I find turning to form usually helps, so it's handy to have a few under my belt to choose from. 

So I’ll be giving you some form prompts now and again, just because I can.  If you can't stand them, don't worry – I’ll make sure to include a different option for you.

Meanwhile – what’s the difference between found poems and erasures? Aren’t they the same thing? 

Well I guess it’s fair to say that all erasures are found poems but not all found poems are erasures. (This may not be new information to you, but in case it is for some, please bear with me.)

In fact, found poetry is not so much a form as a method. It can take any form, as you'll see. But though it may look like free verse (unless it doesn't) it is arrived at differently. There are two main methods.

A found poem is a set of words you find somewhere, not originally intended as a poem, but in which you see or ‘find’ the poem that hides there. With the non-erasure kind, the words will be close together, the poem discoverable in the particular sequence.

With this kind of poem, you must acknowledge the source. (It can often – though not necessarily – be a literary text.) Your own authorship lies in spotting the unintended poem in the first place and then arranging it into lines of verse. You might also make small changes to punctuation and even smaller ones to word order. The crux of it is in what you leave out. You take away the background, so as to reveal the poem. 

In this case you don’t need to erase the surrounding words; you simply extract the ones you choose, copying just those without all the others. I sometimes mine my own writings – old journal entries, or those poem drafts that never quite worked.

You can even find a poem in something someone says aloud. (Then you have to make sure to jot it down while you still remember it.)


There’s a facebook group called Found Haiku, where all the haiku are made by this method. However, found poems can take any form that works.

This is the kind of found poem I love to play with.  Here are the first I ever found – and yes, they are haiku:

from The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen (Harvill ed., 1996)

The deep muttering
of Boulders in Black River –
why am I uneasy?


Sunrays glance from snow,
black choughs dance over the void,
I pay attention.


An erasure – a form made famous by Austin Kleon’s ‘blackout poems’ from newspapers – is when you actively erase printed words (blacking them out, whiting them out, or even using colour). The words you leave un-erased make the poem. It’s recommended that you look through a text, draw a box around words you want to keep and then use a marker to obliterate all the others.

In this kind of found poem the words may be very far apart on the page before your mind sees connections. It’s more arbitrary than the other method, and you have much more authorial control, because this time it’s not just a matter of coming across words which already work beautifully together, but of selecting the words in such a way that you make them work. The possibilities in one page of text could be many and varied.

This is not a method I’ve had a lot of success with, but our Magaly is brilliant at it, as you’ve no doubt observed from time to time, and so is J.I. Kleinberg whom I’ve featured here in the past. They take the basic method in their own directions. I asked them both to explain, for this post, how they go about it.

Here’s my email exchange with Magaly:

I'm always intrigued by your erasure poems. I'd love it if you could tell me how you find the raw material, the sources of the words.

My raw material is usually damaged books. But, in the past, I've also created blackouts from books gifted to me by authors who wished me to make blackouts from their words.

Do you use just any old random piece of print, or do you look for things which seem interesting in themselves and/or on topic.

I do both.

Or do you not have a topic in mind when you begin, but let that be guided by the source material (and your unconscious)?

Sometimes, I pick a page and let the muse go wild. Other times, I grab a page with a topic in mind, and let the words guide the muse.

When I asked her about the damaged books, she explained they are old library books being thrown out.

Then, as you’ll have observed, she sometimes turns them into new art objects by means of stitching, and/or expands on them to create a new text. Have a look at her blog post here, where it's well worth following her own link to see step-by-step photos of her stitched blackout process. Quite fascinating!

And here is one that became expanded.

Judy (publishing as J.I. at her blog, chocolate is a verb) – who  has made a veritable career of erasures, though also being a visual artist as well – went into even more detail. I was interested to find she uses discarded library materials too (though not books).  I asked her the same questions as Magaly. And I added:

Then, what dictates the way you present them? Is that where the words would have been in relation to each other in the original? And how do you arrive at the green background? It looks as if the words are placed on it, but maybe you impose it around them.

She answered:

Thanks for asking...

Because this actually makes more sense when you see it, I'm attaching a few images by way of illustration:

-- my work table

-- one of my found poems, 'at its heart'

-- a magazine page where you can see the first block of words in their native habitat

I work strictly with magazines -- no books, no newspapers, no direct mail, though of course those are all legitimate sources. I NEVER use other people's poetry.

My magazines come from the 'free' bin at the local library, which I miss acutely since the library is still closed.

Over time, I've found that some magazines are better resources and some are definitely not. No magazine is off limits, but what I'm looking for is interesting language and there are a lot of magazines that have a sort of cheerful, dumbed-down voice that is pretty useless.

At any given time, I might have 20 to 50 poems started (that's what's scattered all over the table), i.e., I've found some blocks of words that seem to resonate with one another but haven't found the final pieces that will bring it all together. So, as I'm looking for words, I have those beginnings somewhere in my consciousness, but I never set out to find specific words to fit -- that simply doesn't work. Sometimes I find that ah-ha piece, but more often I find something new that suddenly makes me think of other words I've already harvested and then a poem comes together.

What I'm looking for is NOT other people's gorgeous lines and language, but places where, through the accident of magazine-page design, words stack up unexpectedly to create new meaning. (You can see that in the magazine page I've attached.) The found words must be entirely removed from their original sense and syntax, leaving no attributable phrases.

When I started this crazy thing nearly ten years ago, I pasted the first few onto this green paper stock, a letter-size sheet cut into quarters, and I've stuck with that paper and size, which sort of dictates the length of the poems. When I find the 3 or 4 or 5 fragments that will go together, I often do a lot of shuffling to find the order I want them in, but what I'm looking for is a visual cascade, where each contiguous block of text is roughly the equivalent of a poetic line and the cascade sort of shows you how to read the poem.

The finished poems are scanned at high resolution, and what you see online is a low-resolution version, cropped to eliminate a lot of the extra green.


Many thanks to Magaly and Judy for so generously sharing their fascinating processes. I'm in awe of their artistry and patience! You can find more of their work on Bloglovin' and on Instagram.

And now, dear wordsmiths, I offer you the chance to try some brand-new (though the source can be as old as you like) found poetry of your own – which might or might not be an erasure poem; that’s up to you.

Or, if that doesn’t grab you, you may write (in any form you like) on the subject of finding or losing, or about erasing something. If it’s prose you like, please keep it within 369 words excluding title.

Some prose writers 'find' their stories by using newspaper headlines or whole articles as sources of inspiration. You may do that too if you wish. If so, please tell us your source.

Drop your links in the slot below, maybe say G’day (or anything else on your mind) in a comment, and enjoy each other’s writings!

Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors. (Older material may be out of copyright).

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Writers' Pantry #43: Sunday Morning Cereal

Hello, Word Artists and Admirers! It may be something in the weather (or just the crazy that is 2020) but I’ve been finding myself reaching more for comfort food. Weirdly, it was my husband who reminded me how nice a bowl of cereal can be. He treated himself to a special brand that doesn’t mess up his blood sugars. I couldn’t resist picking a box of my childhood favorite, Life cereal, and having a small bowlful here and there. 

I’m thrilled that this indulgence hasn’t affected my weight at all but paired with a good cartoon has helped lift my spirits when needed. I’ll be sure to have some handy when a new run of Animaniacs comes out next month. How do you like to indulge your inner kid?

So let’s take a look at the week ahead. This Wednesday, Rosemary will be offering the chance to try some found poetry (which might or might not be an erasure poem). Or you may write on the subject of finding or losing, or about erasing something. 

Now it’s time to indulge our poetic feelings. Sprinkle my Sunday morning cereal with your poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, old or new. Just remember, one entry per person and keep prose to 369 words or fewer. Have fun!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Weekly Scribblings #42: About Those Bones...

Greetings, lovers of words. I hope inspiration has been haunting your writing space, leaving you ready to ink and share... Today’s prompt came to mind some weeks ago, when Magical Mystical Teacher posted the following haiku:

fingers framed by light
clutching an old rosary
carved of human bone

I’ve always found that MMT has a way with short poetry. She is so good at leaving the reader’s mind (all right, my reader’s mind) wondering about what took speaker and subject to the moment captured in the poem, and what might happen to them next. That sort of wondering is what brewed today’s prompt into being. We will have three choices (choose one, choose two, or choose all three):

1. Write poetry or prose which explores where the bones in the poem mightve come from.


2. Write poetry or prose which shows why the subject is clutching a rosary made of human bone.


3. If one and two don’t entice your ink, write poetry or prose inspired by the poem.

As usual, our Weekly Scribblings ask for new poetry or prose. This prompt will stay open until next Wednesday. One link per participant, please. If you choose to contribute prose, the word count should be 369 words or fewer. Let us write (and read)!

Magical Mystical Teacher, thank you for letting us be inspired by your words.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Writers' Pantry #42: Autumnal

Hello from DownUnder, dear wordsmiths.

Of course some of you are in the Southern Hemisphere too: most, though not all, here with me in Oz – as we like to call our Australia (no connection to L. Frank Baum or Judy Garland). Right now we are moving through Spring, wondering uneasily whether we’ll get fire or flood this Summer, or both. 

But most of you are on the Northern side of the planet, moving out of Summer into Autumn. 

I liked Sarah McNulty’s recent colourful take on it in her ‘Purple in Portland’ blog.

Making The Switch

Reluctantly releasing myself
from warmth of Summer's
embrace.  Green, pink,
and yellow all had their
place.  Time has come
to enmesh myself in russets,
and amber, swaying on
Autumn's trees.

and her not unrelated Halloween piece

Lurkers in Woods

Amidst gold, orange and brick red leaves,
cinnamon scent, and apple cider,
costumes are being readied
for anxious children 
impatiently waiting for Halloween.

On crisp, cold evening in twilight
beware of monsters who lurk behind
leafy trees–Ghouliani, Pursed Lips
Mitch, and The Don of Con.  Cover
your ears so you cannot hear

their gibberish talk.  They will
steal your candy for their bloated
bellies.  Be on the lookout
for liars and thieves.  They have
two-sided mouths, and bleed from each. 

Only a few of you saw these charming poems, as they came late-ish in the postings for those prompts – within the time frame, but towards the end of it. I did catch these the first time around, and remembered the pleasure they gave me, but it would have been easy enough to miss them.

I try to read every response to every prompt, but I can still miss some and would never  know unless I had another look later. So I like to go back and check the ‘tail-enders’ sometimes when I have a few minutes to spare, or if I need a quick break from everyday concerns. I often find treasures!

Of course, if you notice that something of yours hasn’t been seen by very many eyes, you could always follow Rommy’s example and re-post it to the next Pantry.

We can post (almost) anything in the Pantry – old or new, verse or prose, with these provisos:  just one entry per person, please, and prose pieces to be within 369 words (apart from title). 

I look forward to reading you!


Advance notice: on Wednesday Magaly will be asking us to write while inspired by one of Magical Mystical Teacher’s poems: fingers framed by light / clutching an old rosary / carved of human bone. If you’re feeling extra creative, let your poetry or prose answer one (or both) of these questions: 1) Where did the bones come from? 2)Why is the subject clutching a rosary made of human bone?


Post Script: More Good Reading

Are any of you involved in the #PeetMeNotLeave or #PoetMeNotLeave challenge on facebook? It's to post 8 poems in 8 days and invite 8 other poets to take part. Supposedly (but I think doubtfully) it can also render one eligible for inclusion in a Russian anthology. If you're on fb – whether or not you might like to take part – do click on the hashtags (at least one of them) because there's some truly wonderful poetry to read! You'll probably want to return a few times.

Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors. The autumn photo is from Unsplash, by Pascal Debrunner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Weekly Scribblings #41: What’s the Price?

Hello, Word Artists and Admirers! For this week’s prompt, I’d like you to consider the question “What’s the price?” when plying your pen. That specific wording does not need to appear in the final product and feel free to have a little fun when deciding how you will interpret the question. I’m happy to read both prose and poetry, fiction or nonfiction. But please be sure to keep your words to 369 or fewer if you will be sharing prose. Thanks, and have fun!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Writers’ Pantry #41: “for her unmistakable poetic voice”

Greetings, dear poets and storytellers. I hope you, your muse, and your loved ones are doing well and staying safe. Things are getting tricky again in parts of New York Citytoo many people still think that a facemask is something that happens to, um… other people (I wonder what idiot put that idea in their heads). As you might’ve already figured out, COVID-19 is starting to spread again. This frustrating knowledge keeps finding its way into my ink, and I don’t like it. 

But there have also been great things in the news (and thank goodness for that). For instance, I can’t stop smiling when I hear people talking about Louise Glück, in the news or on the phone. Yesterday, I was all grins when a friend called and said, “Magaly, I just sent you a get-well poetry book. It’s by this year’s Nobel Prize winner. Shes a poet!” My bookish gift hasn’t arrived yet. But I’ve been enjoying Glück’s poetry around the Web, and smiling anew every time I remember the excitement in my friends voice. 

Here is a bit of Glück:

The mist had cleared. The empty canvases
were turned inward against the wall.

The little cat is dead (so the song went).

Shall I be raised from death, the spirit asks.
And the sun says yes.

And the desert answers

your voice is sand scattered in wind.

— “Afterword”, by Louise Glück

Now, let us bring our voices together and open today’s Writers’ Pantry. Add the direct link to your contribution to Mr. Linky. Let your words be new or old, we’ll love them all. One entry per participant, please. If you choose prose, the word count should be 369 words or fewer. And as always, visit other writers, experience their words, share your thoughts on the feels.

- for next Wednesday’s Weekly Scribblings, our Rommy would like us “to consider the question ‘What’s the price?’ when plying your pen.”    

Be well. Be safe. Delight in words.

Louise Glück, circa 1977

Louise Glück, by Katherine Wolkoff