Using blackout poetry to create space for joy

“Blackout poetry is the art of creating a poem or statement out of an already existing body of work or a text” - Shanika Powell


Although we now find ourselves in tough times, mental health is something that we must always choose to prioritize—the mind needs rest and care just as much as any part of your physical self. Shanika Powell, a Harlem-based writer and blackout poet, took us through the methods of blackout poetry in order to invite catharsis, healing and joy into our lives. Shanika creates blackout poetry to remind herself that she is capable of creating beauty. Watch Shanika's video for our BE WELL series here.


Blackout poetry, sometimes called found poetry, is done by physically blacking out the words from an already existing body of text to produce a new work or poem. It is a way to relieve stress, express yourself and create something beautiful without spending a dime. 


1. How did you get into blackout poetry?  

I got into blackout poetry at a time when I was wrestling with uncertainty and feeling super powerless. After coming to terms with the fact that writing wasn’t just a hobby–it was actually something that gave my life meaning–and reading about the benefits of doing a little something for your creativity each day, I decided that I wanted to use blackout poetry to revitalize my creative and mental well-being. 


2. What does Black joy mean to you? 

If I’m being honest, not much at this moment in time. I’ve got Black authors on my shelves, happy Black friends and family, and I’ve always followed Black people on social media, whose joy at one point or another has come across my feed. Yes, it’s definitely important for media makers to show successful and thriving Black people alongside thoughtful depictions of our struggles. Yes, I’d love to see and hear more about Black people doing well. However, it isn’t a term that means much to me, despite its recent popularity, because it hasn’t done anything to shift my perception of Black humanity. I have always been aware of the full scope of Black emotion and humanity. I surround myself with it daily. 


3. What's a piece of jewelry that holds a lot of meaning for you? 

I’ve got this wonderful silver necklace with a pendant in the shape of a metal arm. The little arm belongs to Edward Elric, the protagonist in my favorite anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. One of the show’s main themes is equivalent exchange, which essentially means that you get what you give. I tend to wear it when I need a reminder that all the work I’m putting into my goals and well-being will eventually pay off. 


4.What's the most powerful thing you've done with your own two hands?

I’m 100% bragging when I say that my room is gorgeous. It’s covered in vibrant floral installations, sultry fan art, and illustrations by and of women of color. My room is the only place on this planet that feels like it really belongs to me, so I’m proud to have it be such a strong reflection of who I am. It’s also just plain wonderful to wake up in a beautiful place of my own making. 


Here’s how to start your blackout poem:


First, gather your materials.


Choose a body of text to work with. Shanika exclusively uses books for this practice but invites us to utilize magazines, newspapers or any other body of text we wish to use. 


Select a page that is full of words, (not the beginning, end or an index). 

Gather some of your favorite markers that you’ll use to block out any words that will not be a part of your poem or statement. 


Next, read through the page twice.


Seek words or phrases that stick out to you. Think for a moment, perhaps there is something that you want to say or express. Or, once you’ve found your word or phrase, see which other words you can use to create meaning. 


Be patient with yourself. If you’re not getting a poem today, bookmark the page and try again tomorrow or another day. 

Using blackout poetry to create space for joy -2020-08-21 Grande 


Stay Well. Be Well. 


Sending you love & light





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