Welcome to ‘It’s an experiment!’ Each month I’ll be introducing you to different forms, styles and methods of playing around with hybrid work. I’ll introduce the concept, give you some insight into its use, show you lots of examples and provide some practical tips and tricks for making it work.
Last month (Erasure Poetry: Part 1 of 2) I explained where and how to find your poem. This month I’m going to show you ways to mark up your chosen text to complete your hybrid piece. Hybrid work involves combining two (or more) types of creative expression to the extent that the final piece wouldn’t ‘work’ if you tried to take one of those factors away. With erasure poetry, the words you are engaging with need to be brought out with a visual element, be that highlighting the words you want to keep, or covering up/erasing the words you aren’t using anymore.
A note on intertextuality: your finished erasure poem is going to exist in dialogue with the original text. In my opinion this means we must treat that text with respect and sensitivity to the author, as we are going to be literally erasing some of their words. Legally through ‘fair use’ we are allowed to alter published work (provided we substantially alter it in order to create something new), but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. A poet from a marginalised social group creating erasures from the legal documents used to oppress them is a welcome challenge to authority, however a poet from a dominant social group creating erasures from the work of marginalised writers needs more care. In general, I have found writers are happy to have their work highlighted by any new erasure poem, but as with all things, if in doubt: ask.
In my case I don’t need to ask permission – my source text is two paragraphs from last month’s column!
a digital high
save the file
pull up the text and take a screenshot
this will save you
make sure you can see all that you want to see
consider and even absorb
bleed the other words
test other pages for clarity
Who would have thought this poem was hiding in there? As we know from last month, you can’t plan erasures in advance, so it is only once you are finished that you can start to analyze the themes of the piece. In my example, I can pull out themes such as dependency (a digital high… this will save you…), conflicting viewpoints/nature of reality (see all that you want to see… touch it…), the ‘digital age’ (a digital high… take a screenshot…) and interpretation (consider… bleed the other words… test other pages…). These themes may influence how I choose to highlight or erase the text, or I might decide to let the words stand for themselves. There are no wrong answers in hybrid work! Sometimes you do work with intention, sometimes you just play and see where it takes you.
Now I have my words and my themes I can start thinking about how to alter the text in order to show the poem off to the reader/viewer. I have printed my text as an example, but you might be using a one-of-a-kind found page from a magazine or book. Don’t make any marks on the page until you have decided how you want to proceed; do some practice runs first on scrap paper. Let’s look at some analog (by hand) examples first:
I used a variety of markers and pens (and even white-out) for this first example. Each type of mark creates not only a different ‘look’ but evokes a different feeling. As one of the themes is ‘the digital age’, using analog methods at all already creates an interesting juxtaposition. Examples 1 and 2 bring to mind a student scribbling, 3 and 4 are more absent-minded, 5 harkens back to times when people wrote with pen and ink, 6 and 7 contrast emotions. If these marks were made by different people, what would you infer about them? You might think number 6 is a calm and methodical person, while number 7 is stressed or even angry. What do these emotions lend to this piece, if anything?
Methods 8-16 were all done in Microsoft Paint; but you can make the same kind of alterations in Paintbrush, Google Slides, Word, PowerPoint and many other widely available programs. I didn’t use any special equipment, just my laptop and trackpad/mouse. Most of the marks were just made using different digital brushes to give you more ideas, but in 14 I typed over the text, 15 I selected the text and flipped it upside down, and 16 added shapes on top of the text. What other shapes could I have added? Which of these marks fit the themes of the piece? Which add to it, and which detract?
If you’re wondering what the difference is between scribbling on a piece by hand vs. scribbling on it digitally (comparing 7 and 11 for example), there are pros and cons of each. By hand you may have more control of where the ink goes, but eventually you will need to either photograph or scan the piece in order to submit it for publication (or publish it yourself). Digitally it may be hard to control the marks if you don’t have a tablet, but there are vast numbers of brushes, textures and colours available that you might not have available at home.
There is one area where analog is the clear winner over digital, and that is when you want to create 3D effects:
I used a craft knife to cut away the words I didn’t want to use (first stanza) or to ‘lift’ the words I did want to use (second stanza). This is a basic example, but think about what I could do next with this piece of paper: I could layer other images or words behind it. I could hold it up to my window and photograph the sunset through it. I could hold it in front of my face so you could see my eyes shining behind it…
I really enjoyed making this one and I think it shows—you can see the excitement in the movement of the lines in the hand-drawing. Don’t worry if you can’t draw, I can’t either! The secret is finding work-arounds. For this example, I literally drew around my hand with a black pen. My idea was that the hand was ‘pull[ing] up the text’, and whether that comes across or not, I like the final effect. Then I started experimenting with methods I have never tried before, and this is how I learn new tricks for the future. I tried sticking on sequins which looked wonderful in real life but did not photograph well at all. Next I tried adding wool, and I think that’s something I would go back to and try again. Finally I added salt (yes, salt!) and though I’m not satisfied with the result you see above, I do see potential for the future. It created a stone-like effect I think could be really interesting for other projects.
I’m going to move on now to showing you some more advanced digital methods for creating erasure poetry. To recreate erasure like those below, you will need a design program that allows you to work in layers. You could use Procreate on an iPad (sometimes comes freely installed), Krita (free to download), Adobe Photoshop/Fresco (paid)… there are many others, but I use Clip Studio Paint (they run a constant 3 month free trial). I’m not going to get into all the ways you can use these programs as many YouTubers do that better than I ever could, but for our purposes:
You are going to work on three basic layers. The bottom layer is the text, the middle layer is the mark-up (in this example the blue pen marks), and the top layer is an image. As you want to erase part of the top image, you need to ‘rasterize’ it. All that really means is to change the image into a format that can be altered, and in most programs it is as easy as ‘right click – rasterize’. Then you can alter the transparency so you can see through it to your mark-up below and erase parts of the image to reveal the words. When you have finished erasing, you can bring the transparency back to 100% and delete/hide the mark-up layer. Export the finished piece as a JPG at 300dpi – this means if it is published it will print nice and crisp, and not be pixelated if someone zooms in on it:
Remember when choosing images to use you must respect copyright – you can find copyright-free images at unsplash.com, pixabay.com and many other archives. Here are two more versions using different images to bring out different themes in the poem:
These three versions all have a different feel though they all came from the same source text and use the same words. They are so different that I would even submit them to different submission calls and markets depending on the styles of the magazines.
One final tip: once you have a few versions, why not combine them? If I were submitting this erasure for publication, the one below is the one I would use. I accomplished this by layering the three above versions over the top of each other (altering the transparency of the layers so you can see all of them at once) and playing around with the colours. However, this is only something I know how to do because I taught myself through trial and error. I hope you have been inspired while reading this column to not only try replicating some of the techniques, but to go off and make some new ones. Keep saving your work as you go: save a hundred different versions! Don’t be afraid to get something wrong, because that’s where the magic happens:
Arden Hunter is an ND aroace agender writer, artist, and performer. They have words, audio and art hosted and upcoming with Full House Literary Magazine, Fifth Wheel Press, and Kissing Dynamite, among other places. They have two books of experimental visual poetry coming out later this year, ‘Drifting Bottles’ through Gutslut Press and ‘Stop Fidgeting’ through IceFloe Press, and a book of poetry ‘Pull Yourself Together’ out through Alien Buddha Press. Find them on Twitter @hunterarden, Instagram @thegardenofarden and at ardenhunter.com.