In our most recent issue, Mary Ruefle writes a celebration of erasure poems, which "Most people, I have found, are either horrified or bored by." Here's an excerpt, but you can read the entire article at http://www.quarteraftereight.org/ruefle.htm.
An erasure is the creation of a new text by disappearing the old text that surrounds it. I don’t consider the pages to be poems, but I do think of them as poetry, especially in sequence and taken as a whole; when I finish an erasure book I feel I have written a book of poetry without a single poem in it, and that appeals to me.
The books have been called “found poems” but I don’t consider them as such. A found poem is a text found in the world, taken out of its worldly context, and labeled a poem. I certainly didn’t “find” any of these pages, I made them in my head, just as I do my other work. In the erasures I can only choose words out of all the words on a given page, while writing regularly I can choose from all the words in existence. In that sense, the erasures are like a “form” —I am restricted by certain rules. I have resisted formal poetry my whole life, but at last found a form I can’t resist. It is like writing my eyes instead of my hands.
I use white-out, buff-out, blue-out, paper, ink, pencil, gouache, carbon, and marker; sometimes I press postage stamps onto the page and pull them off—that literally takes the text right off the page! Once, while working on an all-white erasure, I had the sense I was somehow blinding the words—blindfolding the ones I whited-out, and those that were left had to become, I don’t know, extra-sensory or something. Then I thought, no, I am bandaging the words, and the ones left were those that seeped out.
I’ve made forty-five erasure books, and given many to friends as gifts; one has been published, and several sold into private collections. One or two of the books work when read aloud in public, but most of them don’t. I can’t imagine ever stopping making them, and I hope to be working on one when I die.
You know how when you go into the wilderness you are expected to bring out your trash, leaving nothing behind? I spent the first half of my life leaving words in the world, and will spend the last half taking them out! After all, when they asked Neil Armstrong how he felt about his footsteps being left on the moon, he said he’d like to go back up and erase them