Revision: A collection of blackout poetry

Mass Poetry will display a collection of blackout poetry across neighborhoods in Greater Boston using Soofa’s digital signs. Mass Poetry’s collaboration with local poets and artists is part of a project launched in concert with the Poetry Coalition, a national coalition coordinated by the Academy of American Poets, which works together to promote the value of poets and poetry in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. This year’s theme for the Poetry Coalition is “What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy.”

Mass Poetry kicked its project off on March 13, 2019 with a blackout poetry workshop at Trident Booksellers & Cafe, led by poet M.P. Carver, which was attended by a couple dozen participants. Throughout the spring, Mass Poetry enlisted members of the community, including high school students and poets from across the Commonwealth, to create erasures, or blackout poetry, of political documents, including the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Letter From Birmingham Jail, and Malala Yousafzai’s speech delivered to the UN. Continuing in the rich, experimental tradition dating back to the 1960s, Mass Poetry asked poets to create altered documents of the originals by blacking out text while exploring their newfound meaning.

While Mass Poetry was under contract to display six of the submitted poems for display on the MBTA this summer, Mass Poetry’s leadership learned in early July that all six of the posters had been rejected due to their political nature. Mass Poetry is now collaborating with Soofa, a women-founded company launched out of MIT and Harvard in 2014, and will be exhibiting the banned posters in August on their digital kiosks in neighborhoods throughout Greater Boston. The winning posters were designed by Cyndy Patrick and feature the poetry of Julia Toplyn, Catherine Fahey, Sarah Sousa, Renuka Raghavan, Julia Haney, and Wendy Drexler & Jodi Colella. The artists of the selected poems share these words about the experience:

“'United' is a textile erasure. The choice of materials is a nod toward ‘women’s work’ of past generations and the societal challenges women have always faced. I was happy to find this little poem in King’s letter as I feel it addresses the marginalization and oppression so prevalent in America today, but also recognizes the union, support and strength that can be found even within those strictures.” - Sarah Sousa, of “United”

“Blackout poetry challenges me to find the hidden poem. I wanted to highlight the phrase ‘no person shall be...without just compensation’ so I chose a plain green background, to call to mind money and also greed. Facing a large empty space, I tore a dollar bill. This fills the space, and it also highlights the need for just compensation, fair pay, and living wages as a basic right.” - Catherine Fahey, of “Living Wage”

Look out for the winning submissions on Soofa’s kiosks!

You can also take a look at all of the works submitted in the gallery below and share your responses with us on social media using #PoetryCoalition and #PoetryandDemocracy.

Disclaimer: The images and sentiments expressed in the posters shown below in no way represent the thoughts, feelings, or opinions of Mass Poetry or any of its employees. Mass Poetry is a non-political arts organization that works to broaden the audience for poetry and create opportunities for individuals throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to express themselves through poetic craft.

About the Poetry Coalition:

The Poetry Coalition is a national alliance of more than 25 organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. Members are nonprofit organizations with paid staff whose primary mission is to promote poets and poetry, and/or multi-genre literary organizations that serve poets of specific racial, ethnic, or gender identities, backgrounds, or communities. 

Each March, members present programming across the country on a theme of social importance, which has included poetry & migration, and poetry & the body. Programs range from publications to panels, readings, and other public events. Any and all organizations and groups were invited to program on the March 2019 theme “What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy." The Poetry Coalition is coordinated by the Academy of American Poets and we are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation for their support of this work. For more information please contact and follow along on social media at #PoetryCoalition. You can learn more about the Poetry Coalition here.

About Soofa: 

Soofa is a female founded company, launched out of MIT and Harvard in 2014. Soofa is for people with a shared stake in a special place. We create the neighborhood news feed that connects a community with screens everyone can see and anyone can use. Our Soofa Signs provide a platform for everyone in the community to have a voice with Soofa Talk. Learn more about Soofa on their website.

Check out Jun-Hong Chen’s video of creating an erasure poem!