While re-reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s wonderful book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, I came across this passage on working crossword puzzles. I think he could just as well be talking about making blackout poems:
There is much to be said in favor of this popular pastime, which in its best form resembles the ancient riddle contests. It is inexpensive and portable, its challenges can be finely graduated so that both novices and experts can enjoy it, and its solution produces a sense of pleasing order that gives one a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. It provides opportunities to experience a mild state of flow to many people who are stranded in airport lounges, who travel on commuter trains, or who are simply whiling away Sunday mornings.
Csikszentmihalyi then goes on to talk explicitly about poetry and writing:
What’s important is to find at least a line, or a verse, that starts to sing. Sometimes even one word is enough to open a window on a new view of the world, to start the mind on an inner journey….
And the joys of being an amateur (why leave it to professionals?):
Not so long ago, it was acceptable to be an amateur poet….Nowadays if one does not make some money (however pitifully little) out of writing, it’s considered to be a waste of time. It is taken as downright shameful for a man past twenty to indulge in versification unless he receives a check to show for it.
UPDATE (6/30/08): Weird timing: a reader from Tacoma, Washington messaged me and said her local newspaper, The News Tribune, is running a blackout poems contest. (I’ve archived the full text in the comments.)