How blackout poems can help you out of writer’s block


You may or may not have heard of ‘blackout’ or ‘redaction’ poems. We’ll explain what they are and how they can inspire you if you’re feeling stuck.

What is a blackout poem? 

Blackout poetry is the process of eliminating words in a passage, leaving unblemished the words you want to include in your poem. Although it has become very popular in recent years because of its visual appeal, it can be traced back to the 18th century. 

Blackout poetry can be used in a variety of ways. If making reference to the original text, it has the potential to cleverly subvert the purpose of the source material. 

There are no set rules as to how much to redact in a blackout poem, but for more originality, it’s best to black out the majority of the text so as not to plagiarise turns of phrase. The point is to create something new and use it as a prompt to get your creative juices flowing. 

To create a blackout poem: 

  1. Select a large piece of text, such as a newspaper.
  2. Outline all the words and phrases from the article that you want to include in your poem. 
  3. Using a thick black marker, black out the rest of the article until you’re left with only the words and phrases you want to keep. 

Why will blackout poems help me as a writer?

If you’re a writer, chances are that at some point you’ve suffered from ‘blank page syndrome’. This feeling can be compounded by having a literal blank page before us. Instead, with blackout poetry, you are carving out your piece by having a collection of words at your disposal. You’re editing rather than composing. 

It also helps you look at language from a slightly different perspective. It’s advised that you don’t look too closely at the article you’re using for your blackout poem – you can get too sucked into the original purpose of the piece and the author’s intention. Instead, it encourages you to look at the block of text as more of an art or crafts exercise, rather than writing a poem. 

What are some good examples of blackout poems? 

Austin Kleon 

Austin Kleon blackout poem | text reads 'everything aches in protest'

Austin Kleon has written several books on how to be creative in today’s world. This blackout poem is a great example of needing very few words to create a powerful message – incidentally, it’s the epitome of what we preach with principles of readability. 

Tyler Knott Gregson

Tyler Knott Gregson blackout poem | text reads 'there is romance in the black hours

On the other end of the blackout spectrum, here is an example of using more of the text whilst still being exacting and avoiding plagiarism. Particularly effective is the last line followed by a block of blackness, which is an example of a blackout poem as visual art.