Teaching Writing

Upcycled Words! – Found and Erasure Poems: Prompts for Writing Outside

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.” —Jim Jarmusch

If you look around with the eyes of a poet, you’ll find poetry everywhere! Found Poems are poems made by piecing together words found in all sorts of places, from the ingredients list on the back of a cereal box, to an overhead conversation, to public signage in a park. Similarly, Erasure Poems (also known as Blackout Poems) are found when you take any piece of existing text and reveal the poem within it by erasing or blacking out any unnecessary words.

In the video below, you’ll learn more about Found Poetry from two educators who are crafting poems using the signage around a public park in Tempe, Arizona and you’ll be prompted to use signage around a public place in your area to do the same. And in the lessons following from the University of Arizona Poetry Center, you’ll be guided in creating your own Erasure Poem, and, for the younger students, you’ll find a lesson plan on creating Found Poems based on students’ conversations.

Writing “Sparks”

Spark from Central Arizona Writing Project – Creating Found Poetry Using Public Signage

Content focus: Found Poetry
Age-level recommendations: All ages, good for intermediate writers
Time: Video length = 8:04

Kelly Hedberg and Jessica Early walk around a public park in Tempe, Arizona and point out the opportunities for poetry by using the words found on public signage.

Spark from University of Arizona Poetry Center – Introducing The Idea Of An Erasure Poem

Content focus: Erasure Poetry
Age-level recommendations: 14 and up, intermediate writers
Time: 60 minutes

From the Lesson: Erasure poems use words from another source to create a new poem. Poets.org provides a useful description: “Erasure poetry, also known as blackout poetry, is a form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or otherwise obscures a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains.”

Spark from University of Arizona Poetry Center –Introducing The Idea Of A Found Poem

Content focus: Found Poetry
Age-level recommendations: Ages 5-10
Time: 60 minutes

From the Lesson: Found Poetry from Student Conversations–Younger students’ capacity to develop language through oral means is likely more fluent than their ability to handwrite original poems or stories. It’s deeply empowering for them to see and hear their spoken words and ideas as written poetry, and your gentle, curative attention to their original ideas can help them make the leap to see and hear themselves as writers.

More About Found and Erasure Poetry

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Found Poetry: A lesson plan from Facing History and Ourselves. Students compose poems using only words, phrases, or quotations from a text that they find meaningful.

Find Poetry in the Pages of a Newspaper and Find Original Poetry Hiding in the Pages of Your Paper by the New York Times

The Blackout Poem by Austin Kleon: Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of a trilogy of illustrated books about creativity in the digital age and posts a lot of resources on his website.

Taking Blackout Poetry to the Next Level: National Council of Teachers of English, Field notes by JM Farkas.

This post is part of the Poetry-powered Prompts for Writing Outside collection.