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Library program uses newspapers to create lyrical versions of poetry

Library program uses newspapers to create lyrical versions of poetry
By Kevin Zimmerman

When it comes to writing, many authors and would-be scribes balk at the sight — or even the thought — of a blank sheet of paper.

So Vijay Ramanathan, assistant manager of the Queens Library Hollis branch, decided the best way to kick-start creativity would be to begin with a page already filled with words.

Well, it’s actually Texas-based poet Austin Kleon’s idea called “Newspaper Blackout,” which involves taking a page from the daily broadsheet, poring over the stories for interesting or unique words, then running a black marker through the rest.

Once the cap is back on the marker, the author/artist has written a lyrical poem, courtesy of the city’s newsrooms.

Kleon’s results, published in a book, “Newspaper Blackout,” and on his website, austinkleon.com, make for one-of-a-kind creations.

“Newspaper Blackout started from a bad case of writer’s block,” wrote Kleon in an e-mail. “I felt like I didn’t have any words, so I figured I could borrow some from the stack of newspapers next to my desk.”

Libraries, including other branches in Queens, schools and even amateur Emily Dickinsons have copied the idea for the last few years.

“It’s a great activity,” said Ramanathan. “It is writing using found language. You are finding the words to make the poetry. It’s an art and poetry project.”

Ramanathan, who was familiar with the project from poetry classes he has taken over the years, leads a blackout session for teens on April 23 at the Hollis Library. The Pomonok branch will have its own version of the class on April 29.

“It’s a good technique for combating writer’s block,” said Ramanathan. “You are using text that’s already there.”

Kleon admitted the success of his blackout projects surprised him at first, but once he thought about it, it made perfect sense.

“I think people on the whole are discouraged from practicing their creativity because they feel that creativity is about being totally original,” wrote Kleon, “but the blackouts show that creativity happens by rearranging or collaging pre-existing elements from the world into something new.”

Newspaper Blackout takes place on Tuesday, April 23, 4 p.m. at the Hollis Library, 202-05 Hillside Ave., Hollis; and on Monday, April 30, 4:30 p.m. at the Pomonok Library, 158-21 Jewel Ave., Flushing. No registration is required for either.

Reach news editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (718) 260-4541.

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