There’s something positively thrilling about carrying a pristine bundle of brand new books into your classroom library, introducing them for the first time to wide-eyed students, then seeing this exuberance repeated multiple times — hopefully over many years — on the faces of countless students as they read a great book for the first time. Despite gallant efforts of classroom teachers to prolong their existence, there comes a point in the life of every classroom library book when it is finally time to say goodbye. Where do good books go to live out their final days? If you’re like me, discarding a once valued member of our classroom into the trash is simply not an option. Once their covers are torn, entire chapters are missing, and who-knows-what is stuck between the pages, create blackout poems to repurpose and honor the memory of old, worn-out books.
Stacy Antoville, an amazing middle school art teacher in New York City, first introduced me to blackout poetry. The words for blackout poems are already written on the page, but it’s up to the blackout poet to bring new meaning and life to these words.
Blackout poems can be created using the pages of old books or even articles cut from yesterday’s newspaper. Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces. Blackout poems, as I’m sure you can imagine, run the gamut from absurd to sublime because all of the words are already there on the page, but the randomness is all part of the fun! Some pages of text, admittedly, work better than others. Although it might not be Wordsworth each time, I truly believe a poem lives within the words and lines of any page, and I encourage my students to uncover it.
Creating a blackout poem involves steps that are all about deconstruction then reconstruction.
Step 1: Scan the page first before reading it completely. Keep an eye out for an anchor word as you scan. An anchor word is one word on the page that stands out to you because it is packed and loaded with meaning and significance. Starting with an anchor word is important because it helps you to imagine possible themes and topics for your poem.
Step 2: Now read the page of text in its entirety. Use a pencil to lightly circle any words that connect to the anchor word and resonate with you. Resonant words might be expressive or evocative, but for whatever reason, these are the words on the page that stick with you. Avoid circling more than three words in a row.
Step 3: List all of the circled words on a separate piece of paper. List the words in the order that they appear on the page of text from top to bottom, left to right. The words you use for the final poem will remain in this order so it doesn’t confuse the reader.
Step 4: Select words, without changing their order on the list, and piece them together to create the lines of a poem. You can eliminate parts of words, especially any endings, if it helps to keep the meaning of the poem clear. Try different possibilities for your poem before selecting the lines for your final poem. If you are stuck during this step, return back to the original page of text. The right word you are searching for could be there waiting for you.
Step 5: Return to the page of text and circle only the words you selected for the final poem. Remember to also erase the circles around any words you will not be using.
Step 6: Add an illustration or design to the page of text that connects to your poem. Be very careful not to draw over the circled words you selected for your final poem!
Photos courtesy of Stacy Antoville
As you can see, blackout poetry is a great way to infuse visual art into poetry in order to creatively enhance a poem's meaning. If you’re looking for additional ways to highlight the art of poetry during National Poetry Month, the latest issue of Scholastic Teacher magazine includes additional ideas and strategies.
For other inventive ideas on what to do with your too-far-gone-to-be-read material, check out fellow blogger Meghan Everette's "Reusing Books: Endless Purposes for Discards."
For another art-paired-with-poetry project, take a look at this Pantoum Parade project printable from Scholastic Printables. For a limited time they are making the printable free for Top Teaching readers so enjoy!
Students love this lesson that allows them to create their own poem from words found on the page of a book. Art lesson centers around creating a piece of artwork based on the core idea of the poem and the Language Arts piece on finding poetic words and phrases to create a memorable poem with a central idea.
4 Page Lesson Plan with National Standards for Visual Arts and Common Core Standards for English Language Arts; Big idea, Essential questions, Objectives, Instructional Materials, Supplies and detailed process. Also included are Resource links, vocabulary and rubric. All editable.
31 page PowerPoint with step-by-step instructions, two of my demonstrations as video links, and an editable rubric created in Word.
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If you like this lesson check out my other ELA integrated lessons here:
Where I'm From Mixed Media
Hand Self-Portrait Lesson
Inner Gremlin Video Lesson
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