Art & Lit Project: Blackout Poetry

By Liz Delaney, Social Media Intern


At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Project, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Alongside the art project, ABG students made new meaning from the book’s pages by creating blackout poems. In The Radius of Us, we learn that art is a powerful tool for expression from one character who refuses to speak after his traumatic journey to the U.S.; and the poetry here is designed in black and white to honor the illustration style he used to tell his story.

Blackout poetry is a transformative creative writing process. John DePasquale from Scholastic states, “the words for blackout poems are already written on the page, but it’s up to the blackout poet to bring new meaning and life to these words... Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces.”

In this collection, you’ll find an array of poems written from the words of the same story – a reflection of the way in which we all perceive the world around us differently. A few of their poems can be seen above and some of our favorites read:

“I felt alone through the dark/heaviness pressed down on me/I wanted rest./I left/I am free”

“I’m struggling/my heart is racing/my eyes are blurring/I feel the/p/a/i/n”

“beautiful/love/my heart/is insane”

Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego to see these poem and the student’s art work in person! RSVP for the event here.

In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.

A New Perspective on ABG

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

An image of an ABG student working on a writing prompt.

An image of an ABG student working on a writing prompt.

As I walked into Monarch School in downtown San Diego, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew that I would be sitting in on an Adolescent Book Group to get a sense of what Words Alive volunteers do and see how it affects the teens. When Jeffery Goldman, Words Alive volunteer and former Board Chair,walked into the lobby and took me to the classroom, he gave me more details about the school, specifically how every child who walks through the doors has been affected by homelessness.  

What struck me immediately was the excitement from the students to partake in the warm up activities. Jeffery tasked the kids with writing as many words ending with “r”, then “t”, then “e” in a minute. While all the kids focused on their own task at hand, however, there was still a level of collaboration with one another. The desire for each student to help their classmate was evident, giving the exercise a new depth. While it was a friendly competition, they wanted each other to succeed.

Next, Jeffery gave them their writing assignment for the session that would be turned in via Google Docs before the next time he meets with them. Since they were reading Night by Elie Wiesel, the writing topic was “when was there a time when you felt as if you lost hope, but overcame it.” This question obviously can get quite personal, but many of the students took it head on, while others pondered on what they might write about. Watching the natural writing process in these young students was inspiring and really brought me back to when I was young, first experiencing writer's block or nerves of starting to put words on paper. All that being said, the support from Jeffery, their teacher and fellow classmates got the ball rolling for most and those who didn’t finish their work knew that they could thaw out their ideas in time and share it with Jeffery when they were ready.

One student shared her piece with the class, about when her father fell and hit his head and had to go to the hospital. I was taken aback by how eloquent her story was and how much bravery it took to share her story, especially at her age. Upon leaving, Jeffery and I talked about the program. He explained that that the stories they kids tell are truly incredible and can even move him (or many) to tears.

As I got in my car and looked over my notes before leaving, I was particularly moved by how these kids threw themselves onto the page, or at least made the effort to. It reminded me of my own time in middle school a decade ago, and how vulnerable that can be but how important that process is. Self expression through writing can be one of the best ways to release or understand your own emotions or thoughts, in my personal opinion. The fact that Words Alive not only sees that, but promotes it to young children makes me particularly happy to be working (and writing) for this organization.