Blackout Poetry

A Blackout Poetry Workshop will be held Tuesday, April 10, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Neighborhood Reads bookstore, 401 Lafayette St., in Downtown Washington. Val Jankowski, librarian at Washington Middle School, will facilitate.

Blackout Poetry is created by taking a piece of text, perhaps from a book or a newspaper, and selected words from that text to create a short poem, and then using a black marker to “black out” the words that aren’t used in the poem so the poem stands out. Above are some samples of blackout poetry created by students in Rachael Eggert’s language arts class at Washington Middle School.

Hearing a poem read out loud, especially by the person who wrote it, can create a completely different experience than reading it quietly to yourself.

It has a lot to do with the way the words flow, but also the way the reader chooses to present those words, said Maria Brady-Smith, Washington, who has been writing poetry for 40 years and published two books of poetry and also a new 17-poem chapbook. The way she annunciates a word or what words she emphasizes and where she chooses to pause and for how long can all affect how a listener perceives a poem.

“When I write a poem, I always read it out loud over and over to myself to hear how it flows, because sometimes things will catch me up. It can make sense on the paper, but it doesn’t flow well,” said Brady-Smith.

People who don’t write poetry or read it often overlook the benefits of this art form. They may even knock it as too highbrow or complicated. But Brady-Smith says good poetry does something that other writing can’t.

“You transcend something just by reading it,” she remarked. “A really good poem makes you wish you had written that yourself, because it reaches you at a deeper level. You think, ‘oh, yes, I’ve had that experience’ or you understand that experience.

“Reading (poetry) always takes me into a different space,” she said. “Novels take me into a particular space, but poetry is just this short, usually more dense experience.”

Brady-Smith said many people feel that when they don’t understand a poem, it’s their fault. She disagrees.

“If you read a novel that you couldn’t understand, you would say it just wasn’t a good story, but if you read a poem that you can’t understand, you feel like you’re the one at fault,” she said. “To me, when I write a poem, you should be able to understand what I’m saying, even if you can’t relate.”

Why Read Poetry?

“Sometimes, when I am reading a poem that I love, it feels as if a window inside of me is being opened, and I can suddenly see the extraordinary in the everyday things that have surrounded me my whole life,” said Brady-Smith. “A good poem helps me to notice what I never noticed before and makes me want to pay attention.”

She offered this example from the first lines of Galway Kinnell’s poem, “St. Francis and The Sow”:

“The bud

“stands for all things,

“even those things that don’t flower,

“for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

“though sometimes it is necessary

“to reteach a thing its loveliness . . . .”

And this example from Emily Dickinson’s “ ‘Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers”:

“ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -

“That perches in the soul -

“And sings the tune without the words -

“And never stops - at all -”

For Brady-Smith, reading those lines from those two poems force her to look at a flower bud and a bird differently. That’s what poetry does, she said.

“Poetry helps us to pay attention to the world around us. Before, I saw a flower bud and thought, that is pretty. Now I think about how sometimes we have to reteach a thing its loveliness,” said Brady-Smith. “That idea just expanded my inner world.”

Poetry also can make people pay attention to feelings and interactions that are familiar, but that they’ve never put into words. Brady-Smith offered “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye as an example:

“Before you know what kindness really is,

“you must lose things,

“feel the future dissolve in a moment

“like salt in a weakened broth.”

For Brady-Smith, those lines make her think about “the vulnerability of weak moments and how much kindness means then.”

Poetry also can transport the reader through time.

“When I read (‘Eternity’) by William Blake, I am amazed how these words formed 250 years ago are still applicable today,” said Brady-Smith:

“He who binds to himself a joy

“Does the winged like destroy;

“But he who kisses the joy as it flies

“Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

“For these reasons and many more, poetry adds a richness to our lives,” Brady-Smith said.

‘Poetry Hop’

The month of April is set aside as National Poetry Month, and to celebrate poetry enthusiasts in Washington have put together a “poetry hop” the week of April 8 with events for all ages — from preschoolers to adults.

Following are details for each day:

April 8-14 — Sidewalk Poetry Contest in Downtown Washington.

Each morning, a line of poetry will be written on a sidewalk somewhere in Downtown Washington. Anyone who finds and identifies the poem and location, and responds with that information on Neighborhood Reads’ Facebook page or in person at the bookstore, will be entered into a drawing to win a $10 gift certificate to Neighborhood Reads. Visit Neighborhood Reads for more details.

Sunday, April 8 — Poetry reading at Bryan Haynes Gallery, 2-4 p.m.

Admission of $5 to benefit Four Rivers YMCA Literacy Program. Poets will include:

• Barbara De Coursey, who before moving to Missouri in 2011 spent 36 years living in Chicago, where she worked as a mental health counselor and human relations consultant. Her poems have been published in Ireland in “The Galway Review” and “Headstuff.” In 2016 and 2017, Barbara received honorable mention in the James H. Nash Members Contest sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center.

• Maria Brady-Smith, who has published two full length poetry books, “Light of Recognition” and “Becoming: Mothering Poems,” and has just released a new chapbook, “Light Would Find Me.” She has been published in various magazines and journals and has received awards for her poetry.

Brady-Smith posts a weekly poem on her website, https://mariabradysmithpoetry.com/ and on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mariabradysmithpoetry/.

• Bridget Lowe, author of “At the Autopsy of Vaslav Nijinksy” (Carnegie Mellon University Press), has had poems published in “The New Yorker,” “The New Republic” and elsewhere. A recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, a “Discovery”/Boston Review Prize, and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Colony, Lowe lives in Kansas City, where she was born. 

Monday, April 9 — Poetry reading at Washington Coffee Shop at the corner of Fifth and Jefferson streets from 6 to 9 p.m.

Aaron Kelly, Josh Stroup and Raphael Maurice will read poetry, and that will be followed by an open mic for others to get up and read a poem.

Tuesday, April 10 — Blackout Poetry Workshop for ages 10 and older, 6:30 p.m., at Neighborhood Reads bookstore, 401 Lafayette St. in Downtown Washington.

A blackout poem is created by taking a piece of text (a page from a book or a newspaper article) and selecting words from that text to create a short poem, and then using a black marker to “black out” the words that aren’t used in the poem so the poem stands out on the page.

The words of the poem read left to right, top to bottom.

Val Jankowski, librarian at Washington Middle School, will lead this event and be on hand to help people get started and understand the concept. She holds a blackout poetry event every year for her students, and they find it to be lots of fun.

Wednesday, April 11 — Poetry open mic at the Washington Public Library, sponsored by Friends of the Washington Public Library, 6:30 p.m.

Local poets Ed Adams and Maria Brady-Smith will begin the evening by sharing a few poems. Patrons can bring a favorite poem or two to share or just come and listen.

Saturday, April 14 — Children’s weekly story time at Neighborhood Reads bookstore will feature “The Word Collector” with a special activity. Begins at 10:30 a.m.

“The Word Collector,” by Peter Reynolds, tells the story of a boy who collects words.

“Jerome’s collection grew massive, and one day while transporting them, his words take a nosedive, scattering like leaves in the wind,” writes Chris Stuckenschneider, Missourian book editor, in the March Book Buzz Picks column. “His words got mixed-up, resulting in Jerome putting words together in ways he wouldn’t have thought of before for poems and songs.”

All Month — Poetry Creation Station at the Washington Public Library, April 1-30.

Containers with cut out words from various printed media will be available as well as blank paper in the Poetry Creation Station set up in the lower lobby.