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  • May 2012
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POW: Censorship Poetry

Welcome to Poetry On Wednesday!

Today I’m going to be self-promoting and share a poem I made by censoring the work of another author — okay, it’s not really censorship, but that sounds more fun than “Selectively-Editing-With-Sharpie Poetry”

I took a page from a withdrawn library book, in this case Dragon’s Egg, by Robert L. Forward, and I selectively edited it using a Sharpie, until it became my own work. Here’s a picture of what it looks like with the text following:


he had been


abandoning the sleds.


he has no idea

The people are behind him,

underleaders, understand

tending crops like laborers.

The astrologer sticks are right

in some way. Disrupting,

hungry, swift, has

this rabble-rouser spell

the powerful east Priest of any blessing.

A sharp ripple, pale, turns, passed

less than half a Temple. As

Empire thronged, finally God held

an eastern orifice

once again.

This is a fun writing exercise because it lends the flavor of the original text to the finished poem. I’d never normally write such a sci-fi piece, but Robert Forward allowed me to go beyond my boundaries and think about the exciting possibilities of the genre. And I really do think it’s a writing exercise, not just an erasing exercise – to make a poem out of a page definitely requires creative thinking as well as grammatical maneuvering.

There’s a whole literature of erasure out there, conveniently profiled in this article, “Absent Things As If They Were Present” from the January 2012 issue of The Believer (and unconveniently not available in full online, but check out the library for a copy).  Jonathan Safran Foer, famous for writing Everything is Illuminated & Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, just made a whole new book out of one of his favorite books, and had it published in an amazing edition where all the words he didn’t use were cut out of the original work.  Thus, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz becomes Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Want to try your hand at this stuff?  It’s one of the activities available at tonight’s Teen Open Mic Poetry Slam at The Zone in Lawrenceville. Join us from 4-6 pm to read work, hear others read, and hang out.  More info is at the  previous link, or read about the Zone here.

-Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

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