Download ‘Hear‘ by Michael Prihoda
“I first stumbled on the concept of blackout poetry in the work of Austin Kleon. His collection Newspaper Blackout took newspaper articles and markered-out most of the words to leave behind new meaning. I was smitten. (I highly recommend Kleon’s other work, which focuses on the creative process and being an artist in general.)
While I loved blackout poetry at first sight, it took me a while to bring myself to create it. I often work in experimental forms but this one demanded something else of the artist, namely: destruction. I cringed the first time I excised words with a Sharpie, fully feeling the irrevocable nature of my act. What if I realized I wanted that word and had now just ruined the page I was working with? Too bad. The process forced decision, a certain disregard for what might be as I tried to create, well, just something that could have an effect. Something only my brain could see. Someone else coming to the page must find an entirely different string of words to redact. And that’s the beauty I find in blackout.
By working in the now, with someone else’s construction, I originally deconstruct a work in ways only I might have seen, and thereby create something original. Working with texts that are already there feels refreshing. Certainly, it is limiting, since I only have the words in front of me and can’t add anything to make something sound better or more relevant to a theme I might be trying to push. But at the same time it frees me to only think of what is there and not what isn’t. It is the right amount of freedom for my mind.
As soon as I began dabbling in blackout (just using scraps from magazines and for a while cutting out pages from a collection of Hemingway short stories), I wondered if anyone had done a full collection of blackout poetry, connected and coherent, (re)telling a story or exploring a theme, using one entire previous work. (Kleon’s blackout, while entirely from newspapers, does not necessarily conjoin the way I had in mind.) I had an old copy of Camus’ The Stranger lying around and since I’d already read it, I wasn’t particularly attached to its continued existence. I also felt a certain level of comfort with the text, and thought it might produce something I wanted (I can’t imagine using Chicken Soup or something by James Patterson for blackout, though with a sturdy enough constitution perhaps it could be done).
I went one page at a time, circling words in pencil, trying to bring out substance from the text while also bringing in the themes/emotions/feelings that are close to my heart whenever I create poetry. Once I was happy with what I’d amassed on a page, I circled the words in fine-point Sharpie and then took a normal Sharpie and crossed through every line/word that I didn’t want anymore. After blacking, I scanned each page and imported them into a document to read like a collection.
With Hear, I attempted to create an alternate story, one beneath and inside of and breathing out from the original text. This blackout collection cannot be picked apart, though some of the poems might be read outside the collection while retaining meaning/purpose. They are meant for each other, beside one another, the same as page 34 must follow 33 in Camus’ book.
The actual blacking-out process is tedious but I revel in the way I elevate words from the seat of their text to create something else, something that was always there but not quite seen until I came along.
Anyone can do this but I don’t think anyone would do it exactly the same way. So this is my take. If anyone has a copy of The Stranger sitting on their coffee table, maybe they ought to see what they make from it too. I’d love to see the outcome.”
Michael Prihoda on writing Hear.