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Book Review: Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon

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Austin Kleon has come up with a revolutionary idea in poetry. He uses the New York Times and a black marker, inking out most of the text, and creating poetry from the scattered letters, words, and phrases that remain. Kleon’s poems have been featured “all over the Web” and on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The amazing thing is that the poems are exquisite. Some are funny, some are ironic, some are moving, some are deep. When reading a book of collected works, I tend to let the book fall open to a page, and read there. Every time I did this with Newspaper Blackout I found an entertaining and/or enlightening composition.

Newspaper Blackout is not for poetry fans only; many of the selections are humorous and wry. By employing a blackout technique along with his talent for using words, Kleon creates immensely enjoyable art that is accessible to everyone.

Keep in mind that a typical newspaper page comprises a number of articles, and you will better be able to imagine how Kleon achieves his works. Here is a sample, entitled “A House in Texas”:

live with me

in a house

in Texas

it is

just the right mix of

Armed

and happy.

(Note: the line breaks are mine; Newspaper Blackout contains reprints of the original, blacked-out newspaper pages).

Kleon has composed poetry about love, children, teenagers, relationships, drummers, Cleveland, and the universe (which, by the way, includes Cleveland). One piece, “Children Play,” is surprisingly brief but remarkably profound:

children

play

to keep

sane.

Even the preface to Newspaper Blackout is a poem (“His work.” There is nothing like that first book “You put your guts into it.” and hope). It is followed by “A Brief History of Newspaper Blackout,” which is not poetry, but details a history of similarly produced works and provides a “Suggested Reading” list.

Following the collected poetry are instructions for writing your own Newspaper Blackout pieces and samples of work submitted by others. Readers should not fight the temptation to try this writing technique, about which the author explains, “What’s exciting about the poems is that by destroying writing you can create new writing.”

I am not so erudite that I read the New York Times (just erudite enough to use terms like “erudite”), but I look forward to creating my own poems with some popular, yet intellectually "inferior," titles such as People and Woman’s Day. Hey, I wonder how some of those “amusing anecdote” pages from Reader’s Digest might work out.

From the first poem I read in Newspaper Blackout, “His Wife Appears,” I was hooked. This is a thought-provoking, fun, and inspirational book that will bring out the poet in you, if you’ll only let it.

His Wife appears

nude in the moonlight, then

they have

a

hot-

fudge sundae

and

do

The

twist

(Note: spacing as it appears in Newspaper Blackout.)

Bottom Line: Would I buy Newspaper Blackout? Yes, she exclaimed enthusiastically, I love this book!

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