Session One: Writing Activity

“Erasure Poetry”

Lea Marshall

Erasure is a form of poetry in which parts of an existing text are removed or erased in order to reveal a new resonance among the words that remain.

Erasure promotes a shift in your perception; to create a poem from the existing text, unravel your attachment to the words as composed by the original author by carving them away until you find a poem, as the sculptor is said to carve away stone until the sculpture appears.

Mary Ruefle, a contemporary poet known for erasure work, offers another metaphor in a wonderful essay on erasure:

“The only way I can describe it is like this: the words rise above the page, by say an eighth of an inch, and hover there in space, singly and unconnected, and they form a kind of field, and from this field I pick my words as if they were flowers.”

Bring your whole self to these texts. What does that mean? It means show up in whatever way is possible for you in the moment. Perhaps your attention feels focused, perhaps diffused. Tune in to your breath before you begin. Just as you let go of tension on an exhale, let go of words from the text. How do the remaining words speak together? How do they call to one another, what do they now evoke?

Read your poem aloud as you go; your voice may point the way to changes that your eyes and inner ear miss. Seek the unfamiliar, the unexpected, the strange in the new text that’s emerging. The grammar of the original text need not constrain you.

As you work, watch the words transform and the new text appear, distinct from the original yet not separate from it.

We have three interactive versions for you to try, here: Biscuit, Virginia, and Earth. You can also do this activity as an analog style with a ripped out page of a magazine or recyclable book, and use markers or white-out to create your erasure.


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Below you’ll find a number of sources from which you can create your own erasure poems.