Light over darkness

By Kenia Cris

Images from Austin Kleon’s Flickr

Contrary to popular belief, pearls are more likely to be formed when an organic irritant, such as a stray food particle,  becomes trapped between the mollusk’s shell and its soft tissue. Irritation, itching, discomfort, unhappiness have not only produced pearls through the times but also made room for important inventions, discoveries and practices all through the history of mankind.

In 2005, after leaving college, young Texan writer and artist, Austin Kleon was faced with a nasty case of  writer’s block, a condition famous writers like  F. John Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and Katherine Mansfield have once suffered from. It was flicking through the newspaper that he had an idea that would get him out of such situation and inspire many aspiring writers and poets.

He started redacting words from newspaper articles with a permanent marker, and turning the reminiscent words into witty and beautiful poems. Austin called them Newspaper Blackouts and had a collection published in April 2010 by Harper Perennial (see Newspaper Blackout).


Back in 1973, British artist Tom Phillips,   exhibited ‘Humument’, started 8 years before. Tom had set himself a task after reading an interview with William Burroughs and having played with the “cut-up” technique: to find a second-hand book for threepence and alter every page by painting, collage and cut-up techniques thereby creating an entirely new version. To see the 370 amazing pages produced click here.

Writers and poets have always suffered with some level of block.  In 1960, Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais founded OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentiel, or, Workshop of Potential Literature) in France, one of the most important literary groups in history which brought together mathematicians, thinkers and writers, like Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud, among others. They devised several techniques of constrained writing, a literary technique in which the writer is bound by some condition that forbids certain things or imposes a pattern. Constraints are used as a means of triggering ideas and inspiration until today. OuLiPo has a large catalog on their official website.

Austin encourages people to write Newspaper Blackout poems and share them on his blog. Here’s his recipe:

How to make a Newspaper Blackout Poem:

Grab a newspaper.
Grab a marker.
Find an article.
Cross out words, leaving behind the ones you like.
Pretty soon you’ll have a poem.

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