What Blackout Poetry actually is, versus what I think it is, could be two completely different things. I could Google a definition of it, but I can’t be arsed.
My interpretation of Blackout Poetry is where you take an original piece of text, then ‘black out’ the majority of the text to create a new piece of text. Kind of like what Mi6 does to official government documents.
I reckon folks got a bit bored of doing this after a while, so they started adding colour and doodling around the highlighted text to add a bit of spice to it.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, the original source material for my Blackout Poetry is a Harry Potter novel by J.K. Rowling. Now, before J.K. fans become apoplectic with rage for desecrating one of her sacred tomes, in my defence, the edition I had was damaged beyond use. (I.E. Some of the pages were waterlogged and were illegible.) Plus we had another copy.
As we all know, books are only meant to be read. Unless it’s a colouring book. In which case, you can, well… colour it in. Or a sketchbook. You can’t really read that either. Or a photography book… Look, the point is, I don’t advocate destroying perfectly readable books for the sake of art. Unless, of course, it was written by Piers Morgan.
The text you leave highlighted – or legible, doesn’t have to make sense if you don’t want it to. The point of this exercise is to practise a bit of mindfulness.
Just pull out a few words that speak to you then doodle around them. You can use felt tips, pencil crayons, watercolours, pastels, collage, acrylics, whatever you like.
You can do abstract shapes, geometric patterns or something more illustrative and representative.
Obviously, actually composing a compelling piece of blackout poetry out of existing text can be quite challenging, but that’s not really the purpose of this exercise. This is to lose yourself in the act of creating something new and different out of something that already exists. A creative springboard if you like.
The original text doesn’t have to be from a book either. You can use a newspaper or magazine. Or your granny’s will. Whatever’s handy.
I’ve done this mindulness exercise with patients at the hospital, adult art groups and children alike.
And remember, don’t worry about the end result, it’s the act of doing that’s important. Losing yourself in the process is the objective.
Now get out there and start ripping up your mam’s latest thriller.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the headline would be better suited to a sergeant major bellowing out orders to a squad of pertrified 17-year-olds before marching into a hail of enemy machinegun fire.
Thankfully, it’s not a post about being an automaton, but unleashing your creative unconscious.
It was the theme for a little art session I did at the hospital last week.
I do go on a bit about enjoying the process of making art rather than worrying about the end result of what you produce. This is one of those activities.
First of all, we made blank A6 booklets out of photocopy paper that I liberated from the nurses’ office.
Next, we opened the book to the centre spread and drew around our non dominant hand. We wrote a word in each finger. The first word that sprang to mind when I said these five words: A colour, a shape, a place, an object and an emotion.
Then we left that there. We’d come back to it later.
I had lots of bits of paper: wallpaper, gift wrapping, tissue, text, brochures, off cuts of painted pieces, old marbling samples, etc.
I asked participants to tear pieces of paper up randomly and stick them down with a glue stick. Don’t think about trying to make it represent anything – just do it and move on to the next page. Put down as much or as little as you like.
When you’ve finished, go back to the first page and look at it. Turn it around. Look at it from different angles. See if it suggests anything to you. It might, it might not. Embellish the images with felt tips (or paint). It may represent something, or it might be something abstract or graphic.
I’m a great believer in letting your unconscious have fun. In the same way that you don’t tell your heart to beat or your lungs to breathe, don’t tell your hands what shape to tear or what marks to make. Let your unconscious do it. Let’s face it, it’s done pretty well so far. If you’re going to trust it with running your organs I reckon it’ll be okay with a bit of gluing and sticking.
It doesn’t have to be all about images. If words spring to mind, write them down. Write a poem or a piece of prose.
If nothing comes to mind, just doodle.
Pareidolia is the term used to describe when we see images in things that aren’t really there. (Such as bunnies in clouds or a face on the moon.)
Try writing a Positive Log. Like it says, a Positive Log is not a ‘To Do’ list. A ‘To do’ list is something you put pressure on yourself to accomplish in order for you to feel that you have had a productive day. A Positive Log is a list of things that you have achieved that day.
If you suffer from a mental illness even doing the most basic things, like brushing your teeth or having a shower, can take a great deal of effort. So congratulate yourself for it. And take heart that you’re on the road to recovery. Before you know it, you’ll have built up enough strength and energy to start making ‘To Do’ lists.
Right then, remember the hand that you drew around at the beginning? Well, while you were busy gluing and sticking, your unconscious was juggling those words around. So, using the words as inspiration, I asked participants to write a paragraph using all five words. They didn’t have to be in the order they wrote them down.
There you are, a fun little activity to wile away an hour or two.
So, go and liberate some paper from the shackles of bureaucratic servitude from whence it is imprisoned in the copier tray and send it forth to the elysium fields of creativity.
Looks like I’m back on track for my quarterly review. Which is a bit tardy really, as I used to try to do a couple of blog posts a month. That’s the price of working in a hospital for a living, eh.
I still do art every day mind. (It’s a promise I made to myself a couple of years ago.) Now, when I say ‘art’, it can be doodling for 15 minutes, writing a piece of poetry or prose, taking photographs, or starting a painting.
And the reason I made myself that promise is because art is the thing I enjoy doing most. The key word there being ‘doing’. So I just concentrate on the process of doing art rather than the end result. Obviously, it’s nice when the end result turns out to be something you’re pleased with, but that isn’t the objective. The only point to it is to be lost in the process of doing something I love. I think they call it mindfulness nowadays.
Some people might achieve the same pleasure from meditating or gardening. For others, it might be walking in nature or reading. Whatever it is you love doing, try to make time for it – even for ten minutes, you’ll feel better for it.
Right then, what’s all that rambling got to do with these scribbles then? Well, I was getting ready for work one morning and I had about 15 minutes to spare, so I did a quick sketch with a felt tip pen. I then went over the lines with a paintbrush dipped in water so that the ink bled. And this is what came out. So I did a few more over the next few days and I was quite pleased with the process and the result. I appreciate they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I don’t like tea anyway, so there. I prefer fresh coffee.
A common theme in these pictures (and a lot of my other work) is that the person who is the point of focus is reacting to something unseen that is out of the image and it is up to you the viewer to wonder what that might be.
The last one I did, (which is the one at the top on brown paper), took a little bit longer because I thought about it a bit more and used soft pastel as well as ink and water.
Top tip: the coarser the paper, the more the ink will bleed. If you’re doing it on fine paper it probably won’t bleed much and you’ll just have a soggy drawing.
At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.
I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.
I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.
Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.
Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.
A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.
Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.
And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.
This is a new poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. It’s not about Black Lives Matter, but it was inspired by it. Or rather, the silence of the white majority to the unfair and unjust treatment of black people and people of colour. The implicit violence that silence can bring.
That is the only connection – silence. And how crushing it can be.
Please be advised that the following poem contains harrowing themes.
The Violence of Silence.
By David Milligan-Croft.
The restacking the dishwasher,
The recapping the toothpaste.
The elbow grease on the bath,
The busying of the dishcloth.
The fingertrail in the dust,
The song unplayed on the turntable,
The needle stuck in the groove.
The portrait on the wall,
Staring into an unseeable space.
The spent match.
The sheet music on the stand.
The dried paintbrush.
The gagged canvas.
The unwritten manuscript,
Of characters without a story,
The spoon in the can.
The creeping mould.
The hungry bottle,
The greedy glass.
The torn betting stub.
The baby shoes in their box.
The unworn party dress.
The deflated balloon.
The candle wax on the cake.
The forlorn swing.
The jury’s gaze.
The unwound watch,
Ticking in your head.
The heaving chest,
The eyes cast down,
Searching the floor for an escape route.
The unanswered call.
The empty wardrobe.
The rosary beads on the dresser.
The bulging suitcase.
The silent doorbell.
The ‘closed’ sign on the shop.
Fallen petals on a florist’s floor.
The midnight car lot.
The despondent moon.
The fallen tree in the forest.
The charred embers.
The ripple without a stone.
The starling without a murmuration.
The stalking wolf.
The disused canal.
The stagnant water.
The ghost of a railway line.
The forbidden tunnel.
Fragments of a life unlived;
The drop of the body,
From the bridge.
Into the darkness.
The stoic rocks.
The relevance of the cello piece? I adore the cello and I thought the subject matter of the poem suited the haunting and melancholy sound. If you are familiar with the lyrics of Chandelier by Sia, you’ll see why I chose it as an accompaniment.