Erasure Poetry

High Time
by: Dana Murphy

Call me Ishmael.

I thought I would sail,
see the world.

I find myself growing grim – 
a damp
drizzly soul,
involuntarily
pausing before coffin warehouses.

High time to get to sea, 
my substitute 
for pistol and ball
I quietly
take to the ship.

Almost all men -
sometime or other -
cherish 
the same feelings
with me.

I do not consider myself a poet.  I remember writing poetry in junior high school, mainly rhyming couplets about my friends, teachers, and general teenage angst.  I haven’t made a serious attempt to write a poem in years, probably over a decade.  Here at the Two Writing Teachers, I look to Betsy as our resident poet.  I envy her creativity and risk-taking.  So, when I recently stumbled across a website devoted to Erasure poems, I felt inspired to give poetry a try.

Erasure poetry is a form of “found poetry.”  An Erasure poem is created by erasing words from an existing text and then using the leftover words to write a poem.  The concept is not a new one.  A Google search revealed many beautiful forms of Erasure poems – some digital, some written, some pretty and polished, some full of scribbles and blackouts.

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 8.43.27 PM

For my first attempt, I chose to use the Erasures website by Wave Books.  On this website, you can choose a piece of text and click on the words you would like to erase.  Clicking on a word again makes it reappear, allowing for multiple revisions along the way.  For my poem, High Time, I chose the first paragraph of Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Here is the complete text:

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Here is the screen showing my finished poem:

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Feeling somewhat successful and more poet-like, I decided to try an Erasure poem with some of my own writing.  I took one of my Slice of Life pieces and began erasing.

Created using Skitch

Created using Skitch

Being Where I’m Meant to Be

New Year’s Eve
20 years old
In a bar with friends
A fake ID
Overly crowded
Hungover
     Disappointed

New Year’s Eve
30
In a bar
My real ID
More subdued
Still drank too much
Probably cried
Alone
     Would never have a family

Almost 40 now
New Year’s Eve
My sister’s house
Homemade pizzas, dress-up, Barbies, dolls
Warm and happy
Chatting
Coffee
     Perfect

Surrounded by the family
I thought I’d never have

Ok, so I may not be appointed as the next Poet Laureate, but it is a start.  I wrote a poem.

I think Erasure poems might be a way in to poetry for students who, like me, do not see themselves as poets.  Embedded in writing Erasure poems are minilesson topics such as:

  • word choice –  Decisions about word choice are key to writing an Erasure poem.  Which words carry the weight of the meaning?  Which words are aesthetically pleasing?   Which words will help create a rhythm?
  • line breaks
  • punctuation
  • stanzas
  • titles

Erasure poetry is low risk and fun.  It helped me to rediscover the poet within.