Kids’ Writing Workshop: Blackout Poetry!

April is Poetry Month, so last Friday our Kids’ Writing Workshop focused on blackout poetry. First I gave each kid a famous poem, by authors such as Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Dickinson, Poe, Kipling, Frost, and Silverstein. The kids had to read their poem first and get a feel for the themes in the poem and what it was about. Then they had to turn the page over and find the poem reprinted, except with a couple of words written below and crossed out. These were the words, themes or concepts that the new blackout poem could NOT contain. That was the challenge.

(Actually, many of the words in the poems were challenging for the kids, because the poems were written several hundred years ago. I tried to encourage the kids to only make use of the words that they knew, but many were daunted by the words they didn’t know. I hope it was overall more inspiring than difficult!)

I recommended that the kids start by focusing on a few words that they could use to build a new poem that is about something completely different than the original. Then to start underlining words in the text that might fit that new theme. I recommend using a pencil for this part because at this stage you want to be flexible and allow for changing your mind.

Once you have your new theme pretty well worked out, write out the words below or on the back of the paper to see if they make sense. It’s important that the words you use still flow like a poem. Below, I’ll show you what I worked out to create a blackout poem using Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, with the rules that I couldn’t have anything about love or comparisons. That was a tough challenge, considering it’s a poem about how the speaker rejects the usual cliché comparisons when talking about the girl he loves. The way I approached it was this: I centered on the words “heaven belied” and then “the sun is black”… and sort of went from there. It took a very funny and beautiful poem about love and turned it into a very dark poem about disappointment. Kind of “emo,” I know, but it works within the restrictions imposed and it has a certain unity of theme and imagery. That’s the important thing!

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Once your poem is all worked out, you can use the black marker to take everything else away. Then erase any pencil lines you may have drawn while you were drafting, and you’re done!

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Here is what the kids came up with!  I loved them all as you can see and was impressed by how seriously the kids took the challenge to take one existing famous poem and transform it into something different.

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Charlie was given the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His challenge was to have a poem without the words or concepts of “enchanted” or “river.” His final product has a darker, more mysterious feel to it than Coleridge’s exuberant Romantic poem. Coleridge’s poem is full of light; Charlie’s is full of shadow: “Demon-lover breathing huge fragments dancing rocks and sank from the shadow.”
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Ashley was given the challenge to take out anything about angels or beauty from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee.” Not easy! I wish my image wasn’t so fuzzy but she ended up with a poem that doesn’t mention its original protagonist but still has a theme about love lost. “And so all the night I lie down in her sepulchre…”
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Christopher was given the famous WWI poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. He had to excise every instance of anything reminiscent of cemeteries or graveyards, Death, or Flanders. And he did so beautifully! I like the line “And in the sky, still bravely singing the guns below.”
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Timmy transformed Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” from a funny, fantastical riddle of a poem into a deep mystery! He had to take out anything about “end” or “sidewalk.” The ending is haunting: “The chalk arrows go, they mark, they know.”
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Evelyn was given “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson. She did a beautiful job with it, taking out everything about “hope” or “feathers” until what you get is still something sublime and immortal. I like the lines: “The thing with the soul, tune without words…”
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Jessie did something really cool with “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron. She had to take out every instance of “night,” “beauty” and anything about a “face.” What she came up with was a new poem entitled “Moon,” which focuses on the moon’s soft light and graceful walk across the sky. “She walks in like of cloudless climes…”

 

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Emma had the poem “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson. She had to take out “Immortality,” “Carriage” and “Death.” Her end result was gorgeous and pure, and just as spiritual as the original! My favorite line: “For the ground feels shorter towards Eternity.”
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Kate had a really challenging one. I gave her Antony’s famous soliloquy from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” and told her to take out every instance of “honorable,” “mourn,” and Romans, Caesar and Brutus. She focused on the word “ambitious,” and her poem to me is about the failure of an ambitious man. “Home, cried he, all did see…” And her last line (which does off the page) reads: “thou art fled me.”
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Liana had the poem “When I have fears” by John Keats. She couldn’t write anything about “Fear” or “Death.” Her final product is a poem that is less about fear of death and more about love and trying to capture a feeling in words. I like the line “Huge cloudy symbols to trace when I feel…”
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Molly had the poem “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” by William Wordsworth. She couldn’t have any words about “daffodils” or “dance.” What she ended up with is really remarkable: a poem that seems to me to be easily about a glittering stream or river, and not at all about flowers. “I saw beside the lake, fluttering as the stars shine along the waves…”

Those who finished early started reading some poetry books I set out for them. Several kids checked the books out and took them home.

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If you’d like to find a good poetry book for kids ages 8-12, I recommend these ones. Click on the image to get the book from our catalog and request it to be placed on hold for you!

Death of the Hat
Follow Follow
Poems to Learn By Heart
Light in the Attic
Swamps of Sleethe
Poem Depot
Extraordinary Poetry Writing

AnnMarie Kolakowski

I'm a youth services librarian working in the Children's Room at the Pasadena Central Library. I purchase juvenile nonfiction books for all sites, juvenile Spanish books for all sites, and juvenile DVDs for the Central Library. I do a lot of programs with school-age kids, including Lucha Libros, writing workshops, and STEAM/science programs. I also do 16 weeks of Infant/Toddler Storytimes each year. I love what I do, working with kids of all ages to inspire them to learn and use their curiosity and imaginations. Outside of my work at the library, I am also the author of a book on creative writing activities for kids.

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