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