Four ways of destroying to create

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:

it isn't brokenAs 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

Want to check out any of my favorite books on the creative process and support this blog? As a Powell’s Books Partner, we’ll will receive a small portion of any sales that come directly from links on this page. Thanks!

Pics from NASA on The Commons

Not feeling like writing a bunch of words, so I thought I’d poke around some photos on The Commons at Flickr. These are some neat ones from NASA:

Engineers Check Body Revolution Model

Engineers Check Body Revolution Model July 31, 1957

Gemini Launch Pad watercolor

Gemini Launch Pad Artist: James Wyeth, 1964 Media: Watercolor on paper

Apollo 11, 1969

Apollo 11, 1969

Skylab, 1973-1979

Skylab, 1973-1979

First Image of Saturn and Titan

First Image of Saturn and Titan
August 31, 1979

Sunrise Suit Up mixed media

Sunrise Suit Up
Artist: Martin Hoffman, 1988
Mixed media

Astronaut Mae Jemison Working in Spacelab-J

Astronaut Mae Jemison Working in Spacelab-J
October 22, 1992

Phoenix Mars Lander, 2007-2008

Phoenix Mars Lander, 2007-2008