I’ve recently started a creative practice called erasure or blackout poetry. (Follow me on Instagram to see more.) Basically, you take a page of text or prose and create your poem by removing words from the text. Here’s one I did recently:
As someone who loves process and improvisation, this kind of exercise has just enough structure to be challenging, and also extremely liberating. And I’m interested in how much creating is about destroying.
- In this case, I quite literally destroyed a book by tearing out the page, then destroyed the page by using my very permanent sharpie to cover up the original work underneath. I was surprised at how difficult I found it to actually rip this book up (a rather compelling read titled Ten Things I Learned from Bill Porter: The Inspiring True Story of the Door-To-Door Salesman Who Changed Lives by Shelly Brady), a thrift store book I should have no emotional attachment to.A book, any book, seems like such a final, permanent product. And yet it’s not, nothing’s ever permanent. Whether you take the book and use it as a coaster for your coffee mug, or throw it in the dumpster to get jostled with banana peels and used tissues, the book’s finality is perhaps not what it seems. Eventually, like a creative band-aid, I just tore that page out Ten Things knowing that it’s all part of the process.
- The process also included that bittersweet, destructive creation tool called editing. Editors are notorious destroyers! In this case my process went something like: What word grabs me? What word goes with that word? Shall I go with a verb pattern? How about that phrase? O now that word doesn’t work anymore. What themes are emerging? How does choosing a different word, change the work? But, I like that word! What if I switch the order? Where does it start, and where does it end? Is that the right ending, or is this the right ending? Oh, it’s what time? I’ll just find one more phrase. End process. Begin sharpie.
- Once I chose the page for erasure, I had to embrace the limitations of the text, sacrificing a whole universe of choices for the few in front of me. In the worlds of improvisational arts, these limitations or structures are gold. One of my teachers, the great Ruth Zaporah, wrote in the introduction to her book Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence, “These rules open pathways that lead into unexplored territories.”
- After I completed my blackout poem, I just couldn’t leave well-enough alone. I actually started playing around with using it as a jumping off point for a physical improvisation, extending the creation process into another discipline. Or, more precisely, an erasure of the erasure, destroying the poem in order to create a new piece.
The destroying and creating cycle has endless possibilities.
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