09 September 2013

our lost jungle poetry form challenge: challenge #6 - erasure

Welcome to week six of the 2013 OLJ Poetry Form Challenge, and the sixth poetic challenge! This year’s challenge is all about stepping out of comfort zones and learning to play with poetry. It’s also about taking the familiar—whether it’s a familiar form of poetry or the familiarity of the world around us—and turning it on its head to create something new. (For more on what the OLJ Poetry Form Challenge is all about, check out this post.)

The OLJ Poetry Form Challenge #6: Erasure

challenge 6: erasure

While last week we worked on taking a piece of visual art and translating it into the written word, today’s challenge focuses us on taking a piece of written text and translating it into a poetic art piece. We’ll be achieving this through a form of poetry known as “erasure.”

Erasure poems are poems constructed form a previously written text. The poet takes a page of text—say, from a magazine or book or newspaper—and uses it as a sort of reverse canvas: instead of adding to the page, you erase words until all that is left are the words of your poem. Folks who are familiar with some older posts from Our Lost Jungle may remember seeing some examples of “rejection letter art”—a way of “coping” or coming to grips with a rejection slip for a poetry submission by erasing the rejection until all that’s left is a simple complement toward my work! This is a simplified form of erasure poetry. For a more extensive version, consider Tom Phillips’ ongoing humument project. Before you get started trying to create your own erasure poem, take a moment to check out the Humument website. Read the story of how the project began, and spend some time viewing the gallery of pages.

jump in

Once you’ve checked out Phillips’ project, and maybe a few other examples of erasure poetry online, head to your bookshelf or magazine collection and grab a favorite publication. Or, grab a text you bought or borrowed and haven’t read yet. Make a photocopy of a random page from the text. (I mean it: random. No flipping through to find the perfect page. In fact, hand the text off to someone else and have them make a copy for you … okay, you don’t really have to do that, but … try not to cheat yourself by picking a text that’s too familiar.) If you’d prefer to do your erasure “electronically,” scan the page into your computer or find an online edition and take a screen capture of the page (Amazon’s “look inside this book” feature is a great way to find random texts to play with).

Once you have your text, start erasing. Different poets go about this in different ways. Some will start off circling words they want to use for their poem. Others will let the erasure happen more organically, randomly stringing words together as they go along. Start the process of your erasure slowly: let a poem come to you as you work your way down the page. Although the point is to pick a page you’re not familiar with, you may need to at least skim or quickly read over the page before you start composing (or, rather, recomposing). Let the page speak a poem to you as you delete words that don’t fit the narrative of the poem that begins to appear.

Once the poem is formed, experiment with adding color or images behind the words to translate the piece from a “work of words” into a “word of art.”

Don’t forget to share your attempt(s) in the comments below (or via email to ourlostjungle@kharahouse.com) for your chance to be the Our Lost Jungle featured poet on Friday!

Here’s my attempt for this week:

"Basic Economics": An Erasure
Basic Economics
from page six of Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy

Here again,
differences in human production
affect the life
of real things-- the iron
ore, the furniture,

the word for

is not simply

It is

that are just a matter of opinion,
spectacular or tragic as a day
of millions.


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  1. What an economy of meaning you gleaned from that (I imagine) dry text. Can't wait to get on this.

  2. http://georgeplaceblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/new-york/

  3. Love these, though I wish I had some scanning/art skills to match. ;)

    Love yours, Khara. Here's me:


  4. Thank you all :) In case I haven't said it yet ... Erasure is one of my all-time favorite forms of poetry. I look forward to reading through all your attempts this week!!

  5. Erasure's fun, but I tend to get all cryptic-seeress rune-reader.
    Snagged up Follett's Modern American Usage.

  6. I love this form. Here's mine. http://miskmask.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/the-wild-child/

  7. My first time working with this form.


  8. Khara, how did you create your stunning visual?

    My not so stunning attempt: http://writingonthesun.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/erasure-poetry/

    1. I do erasure poems the same way I do my rejection art. I upload the text into a photo manipulation program like Paint, create the poem, then use Gimp (very similar to PhotoShop but FREE!) to add background designs (I have so many "paintbrushes" it's ridiculous) and/or superimpose a photo. In this case I used the cue "economics" and found a photo from The Great Depression! If you ever want to jazz up a piece of text, I highly recommend Gimp! It's relatively easy to work with, and just as easy to learn! :)

  9. The results for this challenge are finally up!


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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