Rachael Reynold’s poem won “best nar­rative” at a blackout poetry night hosted by Alpha Rho Tau at Rough Draft. Rachael Reynolds | Col­legian


Scrolling through Twitter in the middle of January, Joseph Gar­njobst, pro­fessor of classics, encoun­tered blackout poetry — a form of poetry com­posed by selecting words on a page from a book or printed article and blacking out all the extra words, cre­ating a poem. The next day, he picked up an old news­paper sitting on his desk and began to arrange his own poem.
Three months later, he still writes one every day.
“I could never have written any of the poems I have found, and yet working within the struc­tures of somebody else’s words, somebody else’s letters, somebody else’s syntax, somebody else’s ideas, I am able to find ideas that are unique,” Gar­njobst said.
Alpha Rho Tau, the art hon­orary, hosted a blackout poetry event on Tuesday at Rough Draft, pro­viding mag­azine articles and black markers for those in atten­dance to arrange their own poems.
“It’s a cool mix of visual and lit­erary art,” senior Rachael Reynolds, pres­ident of ART, said. “You make the choices both in space and in word choice.”
Reynolds said the inspi­ration for the event came from Gar­njobst, who reached out to her with the idea of hosting an event for stu­dents.
“He asked me to get ahold of Pro­fessor Bushey and see if she would judge, so I did,” Reynolds said. “And five minutes later we had a plan. It was very spur of the moment.”
When Gar­njobst first heard of blackout poetry, he said it was pitched as an exercise in cre­ativity.
“I think it’s a good exercise that anybody can do, so I wanted to show how acces­sible it was,” Gar­njobst said.
Par­tic­i­pants in atten­dance at the blackout poetry event had their pieces of poetry judged by both Gar­njobst and Pro­fessor of Art Barbara Bushey. Winners were rec­og­nized in five cat­e­gories: best voice, best nar­rative, best use of lan­guage, best imagery, and best in show.
“Judging was very hard,” Gar­njobst said. “Some of these were rookie seasons — they were made in voyage — they were hilarious, some of them were a little heart­breaking, some were sad — a lot of emo­tions were found within them all. Just as a cre­ative exercise, for me it was won­der­fully suc­cessful.”
After all the poems were turned in to be judged, Gar­njobst and Bushey read them aloud to those in atten­dance, which Bushey said was her favorite part of the evening.
“I love the ran­domness of the medium, and thus the links to dada and sur­re­alism,” Bushey said in an email. “It’s a lot of fun, and restric­tions some­times are just what is needed to foster cre­ativity.”
Gar­njobst said he thought everyone had a good time cre­ating the poems.
Katie Sorensen, who won the award for best voice, said in an email this was the first time she tried blackout poetry, and that she had heard of Garnjobst’s work and wanted to learn from him, since she knew he had expe­rience.
“My winning poem, blacked out from the obituary of a Gullah woman in South Car­olina, was ulti­mately an entreaty to shun non­sense, but pre­serve hope,” she said. “I think its bleak tone stood out to the judges.”
Gianna Marchese ’17, winner of the best in show cat­egory, said in an email that her final poem was part of a longer poem she had con­structed throughout the night, and ripped it in half before turning it in, thinking it might be funny.
“I try and go for short and funny rather than long and poetic — super not my style,” she said.
Her favorite part of the evening, like Bushey, was lis­tening to everyone else’s poems.
“I think the idea of blackout poetry is really great and such a cool exercise to get people out of their own heads,” Marchese said. “As a Hillsdale student, I can say that we can easily get caught up in over­thinking things and with blackout poetry, it really restricts that over­thinking — or at least limits it. There’s only so much you can do with the words that someone else has already gen­erated for you and it’s up to you to craft them into some­thing more.”
Sophomore Timothy Green won the award for best imagery. He first encoun­tered the poetry method from Gar­njobst, who had him try a poem a few weeks ago on the spot.
“Blackout poetry is less about writing and more about cre­ating,” Green said in an email. “You have an article from some source and a unique poem rises out of it as you work. It exer­cises a part of the brain you wouldn’t usually use, which makes it a lot of fun. Plus, you feel like you’ve created a per­sonal mas­ter­piece when you finish.”
Green said his poem was about con­fi­dence and the impor­tance of being sure of yourself.
“I used the image of a motorboat revving up to speed,” Green said. He created the word “vroom” using letters scat­tered throughout the article, which Gar­njobst liked.
Reynolds won for best nar­rative.
“He gave us all obit­u­aries — the first one I picked up was of an Italian man referred to as ‘the mushroom man’,” Reynolds said. “So nat­u­rally I tied mush­rooms to wine and it got dark.”
Senior Patrick Lucas’s poem won for best use of lan­guage.
Gar­njobst will teach a Col­le­giate Scholars seminar in the fall titled, “Blackout Poetry.” He hopes to have about a dozen stu­dents write blackout poetry daily, as well as read several pieces each class.
“I thought as a cre­ative exercise for me, if it’s going to work for me, it can work for stu­dents,” Gar­njobst said. “It’s also some­thing that anyone can do, and last night’s gath­ering was an example of that.”
Each day, after Gar­njobst writes his daily poem, he sends it out to friends, family, and stu­dents — totaling around 150 people. He says the practice has made him notice things a little bit more.
“If you were to put a black piece of paper in front of me, and say, ‘Write a poem,’ I would be very hard-pressed to do so,” Gar­njobst said. “However, looking at someone else’s words, it is pos­sible to find some things and make some sense out of that.”

Editor’s note: Inter­ested in trying blackout poetry? You can try with this piece right now. Grab a pencil and a marker and begin by cir­cling in pencil words to make a poem. Blackout with marker all the words you don’t use. Share your poems with @HDaleCollegian on Twitter or Instagram.