Our prompt for today is an old favorite – the erasure! This involves taking a pre-existing text and blacking out or erasing words, while leaving the placement of the remaining words intact. I’ve been working on an erasure project that involves an old guide to rose-growing. Here’s an example of an original page, side-by-side with my “erased” page:
One easy way to get started is just to photocopy a page from a book or magazine, and black out words. Or you can copy a text into Microsoft Word, and turn the words you don’t want white. Erasures can feel almost like a game – carving new poems out of old texts like carving statues from blocks of marble — and so they take some of the anxiety out of writing. They can also lead to surprising new ideas, as the words of the original text are given new contexts.
The first book I thought of was ‘Jane Eyre’ and I selected a passage from the first chapter:
‘I returned to my book–Bewick’s History of British Birds: the
letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet
there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could
not pass quite as a blank.
Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of
Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with
“the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of
dreary space,–that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields
of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine
heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the
multiplied rigours of extreme cold.” Of these death-white realms I
formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended
notions that float dim through children’s brains, but strangely
impressive. The words in these introductory pages connected
themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to
the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the
broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly
moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.
I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard,
with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low
horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent,
attesting the hour of eventide.’
Here is my erasure poem, based on this passage.