Writing Backwards: Erasure Poetry

What’s the hardest part about writing? Most writers will tell you it’s staring at a blank sheet of paper or the blinking cursor on a white screen. But what if you could reverse the process?

Erasure poetry does just that. Instead of starting with a blank page, erasure poems begin with a prose text written by someone else. Then, the poet crosses out phrases (and even sentences) until the remaining words form a poem. My text, a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, fit completely on one page, but many erasure poems are made from a single page of a longer story or essay.

The original text
The original text

When I started my poem, crossing out words was really easy. Getting the leftover words to make sense was a little harder. This forced me to stop trying to control the poem or plan what would happen in it. Instead, I had to tap into my creative side by choosing interesting words or images and trying to link them together. The result was a lyrical poem that I called “Coal.”

"Coal"
“Coal”

I made a second erasure poem using the same text, but the result was completely different. Although it even used some of the same words as “Coal,” my second poem, “She and He,” was much more narrative.

"She and He"
“She and He”

Working with someone else’s words helped me create images and expressions that I would never have thought of on my own. I enjoyed the variety this technique helped me produce, and I would love to try it again.

Want to learn more about erasure poetry?

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2 thoughts on “Writing Backwards: Erasure Poetry

  1. This is one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever seen, seriously. It’s hard to write good poetry. I like the way this really does give you new ways of saying things. So interesting, I just might need to try it.

    1. Thank you! This project was one of my favorites to create. It was also extremely helpful. When I write poetry, it’s hard for me to create truly surprising or unique language. This exercise will definitely help you get out of your comfort zone–but in a fun way.

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