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A Night of Stories: Power and Vulnerability through Blackout Poetry

*Note: This picture was taken before the pandemic*

Jennifer C. Mann is a PhD Student and Graduate Research Assistant of the Literacy and Community Initiative at North Carolina State University.

There is great satisfaction in taking something that has been discarded and remaking it into something beautiful. Some people’s entire livelihoods are built upon this concept. For others of us, it can be a hobby, an experiment, or an attempt to express ourselves. This is essentially the concept of blackout poetry. Blackout poetry takes a piece of writing—any form of writing—it could be a page from an old book which is now shedding its pages, or it could be a letter mailed to you by a charitable organization. It could even be something not discarded, but intentionally sought after—perhaps a copy of speech that moved you to action, or a comedy performance that moved you to hysterical laughter, or a photocopied page of your favorite book. 

At CORRAL, the girls take a piece of someone else’s writing and turn it into something, which expresses themselves through the production of blackout poetry. Working with NC State’s Literacy and Community Initiative (LCI), the girls write, engage, and lead through a variety of genres such as personal narratives, essays, and poetry. LCI’s mission is to amplify student voices through student publications, advocacy, and leadership. CORRAL’s mission pairs well with LCI’s as together we seek to provide the girls with opportunities, so that they can gain access to a brighter future.

Through this partnership the girls were able to publish A Leg Up, their first of hopefully many books. Each week, lessons on expression through creative writing are delivered, and the girls reflect on their own experiences and create something original and beautiful. In this book, they have included blackout poems that express their past, present, and future selves. You can hear some of their poems from A Leg Up at A Night of Stories.

Amplify Your Voice through Blackout Poetry

We want to invite you to participate in the experience of creation through re-creation.

  1. Find a piece of writing that you’d like to use. Blackout poem
  2. Next, read through the entire page, and as you read, just consider the words, phrases, or ideas which standout to you.
  3. Go ahead and read it one more time– just reading and thinking.
  4. Now that you’ve done that twice, get a pencil and go through and circle or box the words or phrases you know you’d like to keep– the ones that speak to you. This next step takes a bit of work. You’ll need to connect the words and phrases so that they make sense together, so you’ll need to circle or box additional connecting type words (ex. and, the, because, so).
  5. Now read aloud to yourself the words that you’ve circled or boxed. See if it sounds right together; make adjustments where needed (this is why we used a pencil!).
  6. Lastly, get a marker and black out the words you didn’t use. Everything remaining is now your own beautiful creation of a blackout poem. 

Created to Create

We were all created to create. That’s something cathartic about the experience. We each possess stories of lived experiences within us. At some level, we each want to be understood and to be heard. Sharing one’s story is simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. This mix of power and vulnerability is beautiful. Stories move us to emotion and sometimes to action. Stories empower the one sharing and often the ones listening. 

Come Join Us at a A Night of Stories

Come join us on December 10 at 6PM EST for A Night of Stories and an opportunity to amplify the voices of the young women at CORRAL. Join us in an outpouring of support which echoes the sentiment: we see you, we hear you, we understand you, and we support you. 

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