Erasure Poetry: Redefined Art

Erasure poetry is dubbed a lot of things. Titles that come to mind are “art form," “found poetry," or “found art.” Simply, it is the process of erasing (hence the name) existing words from a piece of prose or verse in order to shape a poem. I have to admit, I was skeptical. I wondered whether the style limited originality and creativity. Does a poet that writes erasure poems lack a voice? I learned from attending Emerson Poetry Project (EPP) that it is quite the contrary. At EPP, the atmosphere is fun and positive. Everyone is welcome, despite slam poetry experience, and it is a great opportunity to try something new. The energy and support is electric; it gave me the confidence to perform my poetry out loud. It is also where many students tried performing Erasure poetry for the first time.

Raina Deerwater, a senior Writing for film and television student, thinks of it as, “a way to make your own art out of other people's art.” Raina, who is finishing up her last semester at Emerson Los Angeles, frequented EPP during her time at our Boston campus. She was first introduced to Erasure in the ethers of Tumblr, where users blacked out portions of novels to generate poetry. With that inkling, and the burst of EPP goers that started performing it, Raina was inspired.

“I basically exclusively do pop songs, because I feel like many people, especially artists, don't give pop music enough credit,” Raina says. “I can prove them wrong by taking out words and giving them my own truth.”

Her current project is Taylor Swift’s 1989, which she is 2/3 of the way through. Here is Raina’s take on “Bad Blood”:

"Bad Blood" 'Cause, baby, now we got what you've done 'Cause, baby I don't think you have to do this- you have to breathe so deep think about the good love So take a look 'Cause, baby, now we can be fine Still got scars these kinda wounds they last and they can heal think about the blood But baby, now we got Band-aids don't ghosts say sorry

Tim Biddick, a junior Writing, Literature, and Publishing student, is another powerhouse at EPP. His take on Erasure is different from Raina’s because as he puts it, “I really prefer to take things I don't like, like bad speeches or problematic pieces of writing, and cut them and shape them into my own kind of creative experiment. It's my way of clearing bad art out of my mind, and shaping it into something I can enjoy while also offering a critique of it.”

So instead of underrated pop songs, Tim likes to dissect “disagreeable or ridiculous” texts, like strangers’ Facebook rants. But a word of caution: be fair to the original author. As Tim puts it, “You can kind of get into a weird territory where you tread a thin line between being critical and outright libelous or plagiaristic.”

This past fall, Tim performed “Erasure of Bro Code Articles 64-1”, which was when I was first exposed to the art. There are two parts, but here is a sneak peek of what he devised:

a bro is doubt, of sex, of sleep pretends to listen, to never offended, to return is forbidden. fingers shall seek no revenge around his Bros face A Bro learns accidents first. asking not. expect to get it. a Bro who is best, is required to lose as a joke. fail at anything, always fault a Bro never willingly relinquish possession, damage another.

To get the full effect, I highly recommend visiting EPP during one of their weekly Monday meetings. It is one thing to read these Erasure examples, but hearing it creates a lively and emotional reaction like no other. Also, by being there in person you can snap with approval or cheer “YAS” with the lovely hodgepodge that is EPP. And who knows, you might even find the courage to share your own work and cultivate a new or previously hidden passion.

Just make sure when you try Erasure poetry to find long passages of prose when starting out. I may or may not have tried dissecting Disney songs before realizing they are already minimalistic and that lyrics are a form of poetry.

Another suggestion: destroy this article. This is not a dare, but an adventurous exercise. Mark it up, black out words, and gut it to the studs.

Who knows, maybe my words can become your words, your power, and your voice.


Photographs and art by Sophie Peters-Wilson