Finding the Right Words

June 29, 2020
Left: A recent TIME for Kids article shows cross-outs that poet Naomi Shihab Nye made to create her blackout poem. Right: Nye poses with a young poet who took her poetry workshop in Hawaii.
JAMIE MCOUAT

A marker, a magazine or newspaper, and a little imagination. That’s all it takes to create blackout, or redacted, poetry. But the effort can yield surprising results. Naomi Shihab Nye is the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate. TIME for Kids editor Brian S. McGrath asked her to create a blackout poem using one of our recent articles. Here, Nye shares her poem and offers tips for making your own.

To Make a Blackout Poem

First you have to read an article or a few paragraphs or a page, then close your eyes and think.

What words stand out to you from what you just read?

Do any other parallel or related images come to mind besides what was written about in the piece?

In the fascinating article in TIME for Kids about sinkholes in Rome, Italy, I kept thinking about the deepest silence, solitude, and quiet we all felt during the shelter-in-place period. We were all staying at home, going nowhere except in our minds. It was as if every city and town and street and block were surrounded by quiet. Embedded in quiet. In the mornings, you could not hear any traffic. Only birds. Or . . .

I went back to the magazine page and made a copy of it.

Then I wrote my poem on another page, just plucking words or phrases in order from the piece.

Then I went back to the copied page and blacked out all the other words.

That’s the recipe! Blackout poem!

Then I gave it my own title.

I’m sure there are other ways to do it, too.

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