National Poetry Month: Blackout Poetry Party

9th April 2013


Thanks to Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit for hosting the National Poetry Month blog tour!


A week or so before spring break, one of the professors from the English Department dropped by my office to see if the Writing Center could organize a poetry reading or some sort of event for National Poetry Month. Now, I have to admit, poetry readings aren’t my cup of tea – I’d prefer to read poetry on my own – and I was facing a pretty apathetic college crowd (historically, our university is majority commuter, so student involvement is tough). Instead of a poetry reading, I decided to approach NaPoMo 2013 a little differently and host a Blackout Poetry Party. If you haven’t seen any blackout poetry, make sure to check out Austin Kleon’s website. I’ve been a huge fan since a student introduced me to this style of poetry several years back when she turned in a version for my lesson on The Book Thief. 




We created a flyer (which lots of students thought was a ransom note, but it got them talking!). The tutors helped make bookmarks in our down time to use as party favors, and our admin associate busily cut out triangles for our book page bunting. One tutor used an abundance of glue sticks to decoupage book pages for the center’s signs. We were decked out and actually had a decent turnout of faculty and students.




After a very brief introduction, we got down to business. I walked around taking photographs (iPhone quality, sorry) and loved hearing what students had to say: “I can’t even spell, but this I can do!” “Ooh, that one looks awesome.”


Then we shared our poems and talked about the artistic process, one professor saying you’re so limited by the words on the page, but at the same time, the nature of this style provides a freedom in that you aren’t coming up with the words, you’re just endowing them with different meaning. The students who came tended to like equally the more random poems, some of them humorous, as well as the more traditionally poetic verses.




All in all, we had a great time, and we ended up with some fantastic poetry – most of the more visually interesting ones went with the reporter who is going to write up our event for the student art magazine. I can’t wait to get them back, as several were really cool, and I wish I had had the forethought to photograph them.





If you are interested in hosting an event for National Poetry Month for a large or small group, I’d definitely recommend a Blackout Poetry Party. It’s interactive, low pressure, and really fun.


This was my result for the night. I’ve done a handful now and like going into the page blind, not knowing what words are on the page. Then I just begin with a word or phrase that strikes me and challenge myself to go from there. I was pleased with the result, especially as I’ve read a lot of WWI fiction lately, and this seemed to be appropriate.



Do you enjoy reading nonstandard poetry? Or writing it? I have to confess, I love the mixture of visual and text. It’s a combination that works for me in art as well. Happy National Poetry Month!

  • I agree. It’s less daunting, too. We also had a lot mention how cool it was but that they couldn’t come because of a night class. I encouraged them to make one anyway. We’re going to hang ours around the center for the rest of the month. It looks so cool. πŸ™‚

  • Tabatha Yeatts

    Looks like a great idea! I would be interested in trying it with elementary school children (ones who are old enough that they don’t become covered in sharpie!).

    • Haha! Yes, Sharpie is a bit of a challenge to get off of little ones. πŸ™‚ Another possibility is to cut up individual words and let them paste on another sheet. That might be more their speed.

  • Serena

    I really love blackout poetry, but I haven’t done it in years. Thanks so much for sharing this experience. Wouldn’t that be fun to try with all the tour hosts! πŸ™‚

    • It really would. And honestly, it’s calming. It was funny because the center got super quiet while everyone was working. Deep in concentration…

      • Serena

        I’m posting this activity on the blog tomorrow for fun. Hopefully people will join in.

  • This is really cool–I’d never heard about blackout poetry until you started talking about it recently.

    • It really is so cool. I love the idea, the look, and the poetry.

  • Jeanne

    What a great idea! I like the way your college assumes that the Writing Center is there to drum up support for all kinds of writing, not just academic.

    • Heck yeah! We’re really trying to emphasize that as much as possible, though yes, our main function is academic.

  • I’ve never heard of this till recently but it sounds fun. (I am normally not into poetry. At all.)

    • I’m not a huge poetry fan, though I do have specific favorites. But this type of poetry is so different and interactive. I really like it.

  • Melwyk

    This is great! What a creative way to engage students in a non-traditional Poetry Month event. Active instead of passive celebration of poetry πŸ™‚ Now I want to try one…

    • Most definitely, and that’s exactly why I thought it might be more successful than a more static poetry reading. In a place with a lot of arts interest, that would likely be fine. Know your audience… πŸ™‚

  • Charlie

    Looks like a good turn out, congrats πŸ™‚ I like the idea a lot, especially with the change in meanings. Did you have a theme for the pages you used or was it an anything-goes approach?

    • Thanks! And yes, I love that aspect of it, too. Some mentioned that they had a difficult time getting away from the meaning already on the page, which is why I avoided reading mine beforehand. As for the pages themselves, they came from different sources.

      But I will say, I also came across an interesting headline, which directed the poem more than the one I posted here. Different techniques for different situations.

  • I wish we were local to each other — you are so creative! And interesting! Love this event — would have loved participating! — as I’ve never heard of blackout poetry. Love that mix of serendipity, creativity, chance — looks like it was a success.

    • You sure know how to make a gal feel good. πŸ™‚

      The day of the event, I was super nervous, like I was in middle school and no one was showing up to my party. But that night, it was such fun, and even though we didn’t have a big crowd, the people who came were thoroughly invested. I can’t ask for more than that.

  • Lauren

    What a cool idea. I had the same reaction: “I could do that!” In fact, it brought back a fun memory from when I was about 10 and my sister and I were less than big fans of Steeler QB Terry Bradshaw. One year for Christmas, I bought her his “autobiography” and changed the whole story using whiteout. Needless to say, my version was much more entertaining. (Old family joke: Q: Know what’s at the top of the Transamerica Pyramid? A: The Terry Bradshaw Fan Club. Poor Terry, the target of so much of our teenage ire.)

    • Haha! I love everything about this. I couldn’t stand Terry Bradshaw growing up but only because my dad would watch some sports opinion show as we were getting ready for church, and TB’s voice annoyed the heck out of me.

  • This sounds less intimidating than by actually writing poetry. and sounds like more fun as well. I would have loved to participate in something like this.

    How clever of you to plan it in such a creative way.

    Btw, my daughter’s school has started to teaching kids ways to write simple poetry and haikus. It’s amazing some of the stuff that the kids came up with πŸ™‚

    • Well, your daughter is so magnificently creative, I have no doubt there are some great poems coming from her and her peers. I’m regularly impressed with her artistic abilities.

  • Oh wow, definitely “in theme” so to say with the WWI books you’ve been reading. I like your poem, and that was a great idea to go with a blackout poetry party.

    • Thanks so much! And yes, WWI is so interesting, and I’ve read more books in keeping with that theme in the last year than ever before.

  • Stefanie

    What a great idea! I am going to stash your party away for possible future use because you just never know when it might come in handy. Where did you get the pages to use?

    • Most definitely! It was great fun.

      As for the books, the writing center is located in the library, and I just asked the librarians to hold any books they were marking as discarded. I also asked friends to hoard newspapers for me.

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  • Oh wow, I’ve never heard of blackout poetry before! How cool! I would love to do something creative like that. I love that you had a good turnout!

  • Reminds me of Dadaist poetry, in a way. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

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