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Monday, 27 June 2011

Austin Kleon's Newspaper Blackouts + My Weak Imitations

Feel like a break from the freewrite, compress, repeat method of writing poems? Austin Kleon starts with a newspaper page full of words, and gradually blacks them out with a marker, until he is left with something that makes it's own sense.

The resulting poems range from cryptic, one sentence stories to haiku-like meditations. I was curious to see what else I'd be able to create, so it's a good thing Kleon actively encourages fans to use his initial idea as a springboard. You can submit your own blackouts to appear on his blog.

After various abortive attempts, I started playing against the titles and pictures around the text, and started producing better results. I remembered an old children's natural history book I'd brought in a charity shop, and realised the illustrations and wide vocabulary would make a perfect canvas to deface. Here's what I came up with...

(click on the images to make them bigger)

I ended up veering towards the two-sentence story. Reading them back, they sound a little melodramatic, which is partly a consequence of the language in the original book.

I'm struggling to get my head around these being finished pieces of work, when my other poems are usually redrafted to the point that they hardly resemble my original ideas. Should I use my blackout poems as a starting point, and expand on the images I've come up with? Or does the way they're set out on the page make them? I'm thinking of juxtaposing them with my 'normal' poems to try and create a narrative.

I loved making them, I think because they play with established ideas of poetic 'voice'. Kleon isn't the only poet I've seen recently using other people's words as a starting point: a Publication Studio book I mentioned the other day uses press releases for art events, and Jörg Piringer used other people's tweets to build poems.

Creative writing manuals often advise poets to use their idiosyncratic vocabulary and diction as a starting point - I've always struggled with this. I don't think the way I speak in real life says much about me as a person - if anything I think it's misleading. Trying to subvert someone else's language for my own means is much more appealing - and something I'll keep working on in the long term.

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