Celebrating National Poetry Month with Blackout Poetry

In honor of April’s National Poetry Month, my students created Blackout Poetry for the New York Times Annual Spring Poetry contest.

To introduce the task, I first shared Austin Kleon’s “How to Make A Newspaper Blackout Poem” video, and then shared the New York Times contest website and rules. Lastly, we searched for inspiration on Twitter, looking up the hashtags #newspaperblackout and #blackoutpoetry and finding countless student examples. For many students, looking at mentor texts generated some healthy, competitive energy.

The activity fit perfectly into our modern and postmodern fiction course— students noticed the “fragmented” nature of the found poetry exercise, and also commented on the modern feel of their short but powerful poems. I also timed our poetry writing day to coincide with state testing, so the exercise itself brought a welcome change of pace.

Here’s an example of a poem we read for inspiration:

“Neighbors” by Austin Kleon. Shared on Twitter via @hutchowen.

When all three of my classes had completed their poems (and submitted photographs of their work to the New York Times contest), one class suggested that we create a hallway display. That class worked together to first mount the poems against white paper, and then arrange them on a large bulletin board in a high-traffic hallway.

“Blackout Poetry” bulletin board featuring poems by 11th and 12th graders at Northern Highlands Regional High School. Board designed by Lauren Zucker’s period 2 students.

Here are some fantastic student examples (shared with permission):

“This mother is abandoning her young daughters for another woman and freedom.” Blackout poem (“Midlife Crisis”) by Matt S. (11th grade).
“Civilization has been morons who dictate what we should debate. social media.” Blackout poem (“Social Savages”) by Olivia R. (11th grade).
“to be in a School is to survive alegbra social studies and gun violence.” Blackout poem (“Triggers”) by Brianne K. (11th grade).
“During the somber hours before dawn, He smiles.” Blackout poem by Ryan P. (11th grade).
“Who kept it all together? / someone who most probably wouldn’t recognize the real star the beating heart / The single best thing that ever happened writers.” Blackout poem (“The Real Hero”) by Nick O. (12th grade).
“8:45 am bombs shattered 200 people / The attack left blood, limbs and heads.” Blackout poem (“Blasts Kill” ) by Kristen S. (11th grade).

How did you celebrate April’s National Poetry Month? It’s not too late to get your students involved in this contest! All entries must be received by Thursday, May 9.

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