Vince Gotera, poet and writer, best known as Editor of the North American Review introduced me to Erasure Poetry in a prompt he posted right after National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). You can find that excellent prompt toward the end of this article with examples of his work and that of other talented poets. Erasure poetry is a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. The results can be allowed to stand in situ or they can be arranged into lines and/or stanzas. The earliest erasure poems appeared in the mid-1960s and Doris Cross’ ‘Dictionary Columns’ was certainly one of the firsts.
According to Karl Kempton, ‘Cross’ treatment of dictionary columns and her search within them for found words has added another factor to the equation/subtraction. in the purer minimal columns the spaces devoted totally to the science of meaning, to the repeatable act of definition, are negated in the pursuit of the unique, the unrepeatable act. this is only one of the many tensions complexly woven by this maker waving a wand tuned to a negative capability, of taking from an arena of so-called certainly, turning phrases, words, letters and their parts into clues, hints of the greater mysteries and uncertainties we all face.’ Another poet compares Erasure Poetry to a burlesque, where it is what we don’t see, the undertext, which catches our attention.
It is the poetry of loaded spaces and allusions to the original text, which may be fiction, nonfiction, longer poems, songs, advertisements, really anything that previously exists. The process of erasure reforms, reinterprets, distills, and remakes the original. It is a process of selection and will teach you about your own poetic sensibilities. In one of my poems I call myself an imperfect processor with selection bias. The method of erasure brought this reality to the forefront for me.
You can erase and assemble in the same order as the original text or jump about the page. You can use one page or several, or even an entire book (unlikely for the prompt today). The visual aspect of the process can be across the spectrum from pulling from the original without showing the original text to using white out, markers, paint, or any medium to create a visual and poetic work of art. Please don’t be intimidated by the visual aspect and decide what’s right for you. If you also enjoy creating visual art then feel free to get as creative as you’d like.
For examples I am sharing one of my poems:
Jane rehearses heartbreak on a splendid Midsummer night at Thornfield while Mr. Rochester’s potent lightning strike, a seemingly small lie of omission, tears asunder the great horse-chestnut tree at the bottom of the orchard
Erasure poem and painting by Anna Montgomery
Text from the novel, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
the sea is a barrier
brine and foam
destined to rush between
it is a long way
on the eve of separation
stars enter into their shining
my heart was still
a string inextricably knotted
cord of communion snapped
impossible to proceed
I endured no longer
grief and love
petrified, it strikes me with
terror and anguish
to be torn from you forever
it is like looking on
the necessity of death
In addition, here you’ll find The Sea, the work of a very talented and prolific erasure poet Carrieola. Don’t forget to check out the link to Vince’s blog, The Man With the Blue Guitar. Also, here’s an audio excerpt about Erasure Poetry at the Poetry Foundation. To find copyright free e-books in multiple formats check out the Gutenberg Project (there are tens of thousands of books available). If you’d like to try an application online that will create an erasure poem for you go to Erasures a site created by Wave Books.
• Write your poem and post it on your blog or website.
• Copy the direct link to the URL and paste it, along with your name, in the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.
• Participate in community building, a primary principle here at the pub, by engaging the work of others, reading and commenting. One of the best ways to become a better poet is to read and reflect on the work of your peers. Please provide positive, constructive feedback and appreciation. It’s how we show respect for one another at the pub.
• Share your work and that of others on your social networks. Encourage other poets to join us here at the pub.