The other day, I was on Reddit and stumbled across this example of applying the “blackout poetry” method to a page CS Lewis’ Narnia novel, The Silver Chair. Fair warning, it’s pretty lewd:
For those unfamiliar with blackout poetry – well, you’re probably able to piece together how it works from the picture above. It’s the practice of taking one text and covering up all but a few words in a sort of reverse-Mad Libs fashion, and seeing what you end up with. I’ve never tried my own hand at it before, but I would imagine that blackout poets exercise varying degrees of precision while scribbling out words. You could black them out at random, or in a fixed pattern, or with a particular outcome in mind – e.g., turning a page from children’s book into a slice of erotic fiction.
One key difference that I see between the two methods is that whereas many computer generated poems effectively work to make sense out of nonsense – that is, take a pool of words that are meaningless on their own, then apply some template and create (at least somewhat) meaningful sentences from them – blackout poetry takes something that already makes sense, and tries to twist it so that it makes a different kind of sense. If I’m playing by the rules, I don’t get to cut the page up and rearrange the words how I like them. My sharpie is my only weapon. I’m not sure that we’re at a place yet where computers are able to perform this kind of abstract thought, at least not without a good deal of human assistance.