Erasure Poetry

High Time
by: Dana Murphy

Call me Ishmael.

I thought I would sail,
see the world.

I find myself growing grim – 
a damp
drizzly soul,
pausing before coffin warehouses.

High time to get to sea, 
my substitute 
for pistol and ball
I quietly
take to the ship.

Almost all men –
sometime or other –
the same feelings
with me.

I do not consider myself a poet.  I remember writing poetry in junior high school, mainly rhyming couplets about my friends, teachers, and general teenage angst.  I haven’t made a serious attempt to write a poem in years, probably over a decade.  Here at the Two Writing Teachers, I look to Betsy as our resident poet.  I envy her creativity and risk-taking.  So, when I recently stumbled across a website devoted to Erasure poems, I felt inspired to give poetry a try.

Erasure poetry is a form of “found poetry.”  An Erasure poem is created by erasing words from an existing text and then using the leftover words to write a poem.  The concept is not a new one.  A Google search revealed many beautiful forms of Erasure poems – some digital, some written, some pretty and polished, some full of scribbles and blackouts.

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 8.43.27 PM

For my first attempt, I chose to use the Erasures website by Wave Books.  On this website, you can choose a piece of text and click on the words you would like to erase.  Clicking on a word again makes it reappear, allowing for multiple revisions along the way.  For my poem, High Time, I chose the first paragraph of Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Here is the complete text:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 8.50.13 PM

Here is the screen showing my finished poem:

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Feeling somewhat successful and more poet-like, I decided to try an Erasure poem with some of my own writing.  I took one of my Slice of Life pieces and began erasing.

Created using Skitch
Created using Skitch

Being Where I’m Meant to Be

New Year’s Eve
20 years old
In a bar with friends
A fake ID
Overly crowded

New Year’s Eve
In a bar
My real ID
More subdued
Still drank too much
Probably cried
     Would never have a family

Almost 40 now
New Year’s Eve
My sister’s house
Homemade pizzas, dress-up, Barbies, dolls
Warm and happy

Surrounded by the family
I thought I’d never have

Ok, so I may not be appointed as the next Poet Laureate, but it is a start.  I wrote a poem.

I think Erasure poems might be a way in to poetry for students who, like me, do not see themselves as poets.  Embedded in writing Erasure poems are minilesson topics such as:

  • word choice –  Decisions about word choice are key to writing an Erasure poem.  Which words carry the weight of the meaning?  Which words are aesthetically pleasing?   Which words will help create a rhythm?
  • line breaks
  • punctuation
  • stanzas
  • titles

Erasure poetry is low risk and fun.  It helped me to rediscover the poet within.

12 thoughts on “Erasure Poetry

  1. I love playing around with texts to create poetry. I’ve done this with letters, blog posts, and recently with Oprah’s “What I know for sure” article. It’s a great way to write an original poem without having to come up with the theme or the words. I’m happy to learn how technology supports this form and how I can use it with my students.


  2. This is so cool Dana. I’ve never heard it called that before! Makes me want to do it right now. Love that you incorporated tech with it too, very smart. (Thanks for the poetry shout out too).


  3. I also have done blackout poems for awhile but love the idea of technology with it. The kids would love it. I have not used this for a few years so thanks for the reminder. It might be a good way to start our poetry work this year. As you say – an easy step into poetry for those who think they can’t.


  4. I have been teaching Blackout poetry and other forms of found poetry for years; love the integration of technology to make the process even easier! So cool – thank you!


  5. This is great! I’ve taken bits of my pieces that had “poetic” language and used it to fashion a poem as a version of found poetry. I love how accessible this is to all writers. Definitely something I will try and pass on to teachers and other writers as a great writing strategy.


  6. I love this idea! I have tried doing something like this with informational texts (particularly about animals or people ) and using key phrases or words to “fine” a poem. The idea of “erasing will sound very cool to kids!


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