Erasure Poetry Form: Embody Art in Absence

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Here’s what the Erasure poetry form is:

Erasure poems are a form of found poetry in which the poem is produced by erasing unwanted words from the page.

The words that are not erased or covered form a new poem.

Thus, it can be seen as a variation of or complement to blackout poetry.

So if you want to learn all about the Erasure poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s jump right into it!

Erasure Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: Erasure Poetry

Yellow stationery corrector on a background of multi-colored cardboard paper.

Erasure poetry is a subgenre of found poetry in which the words from a text or article are erased, with a whiteout or something similar, in order to only leave behind the words meant to be part of a poem.

This is one method for creating poetry through subtraction.

It can be argued that erasure poetry and blackout poetry are ultimately the same subgenres or that they are at least two sides of the same coin.

For our purposes, we’ll be treating the main difference between the two as the method by which they are physically generated.

Whereas blackout poetry covers the page in ink or marker, erasure poetry (for the purpose of this article) utilizes whiteout or deletion to create white space on the page.

Nonetheless, it should be remembered that they represent essentially the same style of poetry outside of this mostly arbitrary distinction.

We will go over the broader term of found poetry first in order to establish the basic principles behind the form.

Basic Properties of Erasure Poetry

Open poetry book lying on a blue green wooden bench.
Rhyme StructureNone
OriginDadaism, but there are isolated examples from earlier
PopularityCurrently popular in classroom settings and in digital form

What Is Found Poetry?

Woman writing in a notebook, indoor.

Found poetry is the umbrella term above erasure poetry.

Any form of poetry that utilizes words from other pre-established works, usually by way of rearrangement, collection, or (in this case) erasure can be considered a found poem.

The basic idea fueling the genre is that anyone can ‘find’ a poem.

This makes the genre appealing to new poets, since it has a relatively low barrier to entry, requiring no extensive research or training to get started.

Unfortunately, these found poems are not always taken seriously and are often seen as a hobby genre, despite their popularity in classroom settings and in digital media.

The process of creating a poem from scratch is typically seen as more intrinsically difficult, rewarding, and impressive, but this does not mean that a found poem cannot have meaning and value.

Found poets should be wary of where they source their material from, however, as a poor application can lead to copyright law violations.

Make sure your sources are in the public domain or are well documented if you plan on commercializing a found poem of any kind, especially in regards to blackout and erasure poems since the original work will be blatantly visible.

What Is Erasure Poetry?

A cup of coffee in the workplace on a wooden table.

Erasure poetry is done by erasing most of the words in a preexisting work, either by some form of digital manipulation or by simply spreading whiteout across a newspaper clipping.

Going back to our separate definitions of blackout poetry and erasure poetry, the main appeal of the latter would be that there are no large black splotches on the page to distract the eyes.

This lends blackout poetry to a view that reads almost like literary graffiti or censorship, while erasure poetry looks more like the original work has been “unwritten” from the page.

An erasure poem, by this definition, also makes it harder to see what the original work was, presenting itself as if the article below had never existed.

Found poetry, and thus all of its branches, got their main source of inspiration from Dadaism.

Dadaism was an anti-art movement from around the time of World War I, though calling it a movement is slightly disingenuous since it was intended to be a cynical rejection of art in response to the events of the time.

Dadaists presented an argument that a world being ripped apart by elitism, nationalism, and industrialism should not be allowed to enjoy art since a meaningless world deserves no meaning.

As a statement, Dadaists thus produced purposely absurd and meaningless works of non-art, often created through randomization practices.

Of course, art critics will happily argue that anything making a statement is art by definition, so Dadaism is now looked back on as an art movement in and of itself, regardless of the intent of its founders.

As a result, many of the seemingly absurd practices of Dadaism, such as producing poetry by randomly shuffling clippings, became mainstream in a sense.

How to Write Erasure Poetry?

Woman’s hands writing with pen over blank white paper sheet on wooden table.

You need a text of some kind before you can accomplish anything.

This can be a page ripped out of a book (preferably that you own yourself!), a newspaper clipping, a magazine article, etc.

The trick is to find a passage that’s long enough and varied enough to present you with multiple options for how to approach your poem.

Try drawing boxes around everything you might use.

Boxing out the words or phrases that stand out as meaningful will make the overall text easier to work with.

If you’re going to be using white-out, then you should feel free to draw arrows that make the order easier to keep track of or extra boxes that you’re not sure about, since you can just cover everything you don’t want to see in the long run.

Be careful of which words you choose.

The best possible outcome would be a message that is structurally and thematically sound and has some sense of unified purpose to it.

Try to eliminate everything that doesn’t contribute to that purpose, but don’t feel constrained to perfect grammar and syntax.

The important thing is that your poem ultimately has something to say.

Example of an Erasure Poem

Flowers bouqet in rustic cup and old books on table in the garden.

Erasure Poem

An erasure poem is a chance to explore the way you interpret the words of others. We normally see every word on the page in perfect order, never wondering what messages might be hidden in the random combinations of words upon the page. While it might be hard to find your sense of ownership in someone else’s words, it will be engaging to look for it and to push the limits of what simply erasing a few words can do.

Original Text

An erasure poem is a chance to explore the way you interpret the words of others. We normally see every word on the page in perfect order, never wondering what messages might be hidden in the random combinations of words upon the page. While it might be hard to find your sense of ownership in someone else’s words, it will be engaging to look for it and to push the limits of what simply erasing a few words can do.

In the above example, the original text is reduced down to its barebones, meaning stripping away all excess.

This is a slightly atypical example since it complements the original text instead of commenting on it or creating something entirely new, but it should show the basic technique used to create an erasure poem.

Note that how you erase the words will vary depending on what medium you choose to work with.

In this case, the words were quite literally deleted and replaced with white space on the page.

That naturally won’t be an option in physical forms, but you can still use whiteout to simulate the effect.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

I was conflicted on whether erasure poems and blackout poems should count as separate forms since they’re mechanically the same.

But it’s fun making our readers look it up multiple times.

Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art

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Dare to traverse the entire spectrum of poetic forms, from the commonplace to the extraordinary?

Venture from the quintessential Sonnet to the elusive Mistress Bradstreet stanza, right through to the daunting complexity of Cro Cumaisc Etir Casbairdni Ocus Lethrannaigecht.

For those with a zeal to encounter the full breadth of poetry’s forms, this invitation is yours.

Start exploring the vast universe of poetic ingenuity with our comprehensive array of poetry forms right now!