Where was this one when I needed it?
Where was this one when I needed it?
In some ways, I’m probably the worst person to teach blackout poetry. I’ve done it for so long, I don’t even really think about it any more. Making art and teaching art are two different skill sets, and a quick Google search for “blackout poetry lesson plans” shows that there’s a small army of English teachers already doing it better than me, anyways.
That’s not to say I don’t like teaching, it’s just that I’m never sure I’m any good at it.
I’ve done some workshops with a lot of instruction and timed activities, but those always seem just a little bit off. So, this weekend at the Texas Teen Book Festival, I found myself in an auditorium full of teens, and the festival folks had already set out newspaper and markers in front of them, so I just thought, “You know what? Forget it. I’m going to give them as little instruction as possible, and we’ll just see what happens.”
I told the story of how I started blacking out, showed a timelapse video of how I make one, read a few, then told them they should just go for it. I spoke for another 10 minutes, showed some more examples, then I asked if anybody wanted to read theirs.
This is always the moment where I kind of hold my breath and think, “Uh oh. This is gonna be bad if nobody reads.”
But these teens! They started lining up at the microphone. And they read their poems like it was nothing. And they were great. And they would’ve kept lining up and reading if we didn’t run out of time.
It’s easy for an old fart like me to get jaded about everything, especially my work. Doing that workshop was a jolt of energy. It reminded me of Patti Smith, quoted in the book Please Kill Me:
Through performance, I reach such states, in which my brain feels so open… if I can develop a communication with an audience, a bunch of people, when my brain is that big and receptive, imagine the energy and intelligence and all the things I can steal from them.
I stole a lot from everybody in that room. So thanks, y’all!
Here you can see this poem being made:
In today’s New York Times, a man said this about living in a 112-square-foot house: “It has maximized what I’m able to do with the young years of my life.”
This is the big point I try to make when I speak to young people: “Keep your overhead low.”
The less you have to maintain, the more time you have to do what you want to do.
Sometimes the words don’t come. That’s when I make pictures. (And vice versa.)
I hate writing. What I really love is reading. I tell people I became a professional writer so I could be a professional reader. (Adam Phillips: “I had never had any desire to be a writer. I wanted to be a reader.”)
Always circling the same obsessions, I’ll often make a poem months (or years) after that would’ve fit perfectly into one of my books. This one would’ve gone into chapter three of Steal Like An Artist (“Write the book you want to read.”) Originally, it was going to go, “I read what I want to read,” as a screw you to people who try to make you feel guilty about what you read, but I decided I couldn’t pass this one up.
My first book, Newspaper Blackout, is now available as an eBook.
Word of caution: you need to have a reasonably large, preferably backlit screen to appreciate these things. If you just have an old Kindle or an eReader with a tiny screen, you’d be better off buying the paperback. (I haven’t tested every device, but I can say it looks really great in iBooks on an iPad. Maybe even better than on paper.)
The eBook also contains some “deleted scenes”—a dozen or so poems that got cut from the original manuscript—and a new afterword.
The holidays are coming up, which means that I’m getting a lot of email from folks who want to buy prints of my work to give as gifts.
Unfortunately, we won’t be selling prints until next year. (My wife Meg is working hard on planning the logistics—we’ll be selling signed, limited-edition screenprints of new and old poems.) Prints available now! In the meantime, here’s how to get a cheap print:
1. Buy a copy of Newspaper Blackout and a regular ol’ 8×10 frame.
2. Razor out a poem you like.
3. Frame and enjoy!
If you’re desperate for a gift, you can also get a signed copy of Steal Like An Artist from Bookpeople here in Austin, Texas. They ship everywhere. Order one here.
If you’d like to know when prints are available, sign up for my weekly newsletter.
Earlier this month, I posted a blackout on Instagram and a follower commented, “Sounds like the beginning of a good tale.”
That got me wondering if could tell a ghost story in blackouts for the rest of October—one blackout a day, each made from the September 29th edition of the NYTimes. (Which, as you can see above, just happened to have a lot of ghost references…)
What I ended up with was a long poem about sexually-frustrated ghosts. Not fine literature, but it was fun to make. Read the whole thing below. Happy Halloween!