All around us, every single moment things both arrive, and disappear. Today I’d like to explore one of my favorite techniques: Erasures and Collage. I know a few of you are already experimenting with these combined or separate techniques.

“Precipitate as weather, she appeared from somewhere, then evaporated, leaving only memory.” 
―Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

I’m currently reading Justin Torres’ National Book Award 2023 winning book, Blackouts. With the incredible inclusion of sepia-toned artwork, there are also numerous pages of collage and erasures. I can barely put this book down, due to its creative, and alarming subject matter, and, in addition, {WHAT IS LEFT OUT!!!}

I implore you, what do you leave out of your writing? What does your character reveal that might be surprising? Or might be kept secretive but we, the readers, have insight? Beyond simply details, erasure/ collage are delightful effective techniques to reveal trust in a reader’s imaginative abilities. And, of course, Torres, brilliant as he is, did not invent this! A blurb on the back from Eleanor Cantor includes this excerpt… ‘inviting us to think about erasure and collage, not just as literary techniques, but as psychological processes, and even as radical acts of cultural and sexual reframing.’

Here is more on Justin Torres perspective on Blackouts

Marlene Nourbese Philip (a/k/a M. NourbeSe Philip). Please look her up! And one of her most quoted identity poems is from Discourse on the Logic of Language:

… and English is
my mother tongue
my father tongue
is a foreign lan lan lang

As she explores themes of race, place, gender, colonialism and, always, language, Philip plays with words, bending and restating them in a way that is reminiscent of jazz. 

Also, often, erasure/ collage is used to deliver harsh, urgent, critical disclosures. Of course, Burroughs is a modern grandpa to the erasure/ collage oeuvre. One huge personal aspect is that he “accidentally” shot his wife, Joan Vollmer to death. Indeed, he did. More here:

A section of The Bully from Newspaper Blackout By Austin Kleon. Photograph: Austin Kleon/HarperCollins

There is a terrific book by Kate Zambreno called Heroines, which illuminates details about literary gender disparities, how wives, many who were also writers, or influential to their spouses, or simply overlooked, get their just due.

On a side note, as I am developing this course, a tree company is grinding up a large pine across the road (I have the great (?) fortune of living in the woods). Talk about disappearances…

What in your immediate surroundings is leaving, fleeting, disappearing, etc. Make a short list of either items, both physical (pine tree!) or perhaps other (alcohol, accidents, traveling, etc. Maybe a recent close person’s passing?) This list might also include a sub-list of internal options: height, balance, confidence, etc.

Also before we move into another realm, here are some useful ways to try erasure/ collage or separate techniques:

  1. Crossouts
  2. Computers
  3. Cut Outs
  4. Covered Up
  5. Retyped
  6. Visual

Obviously, these can overlap! E.g., a writer can make more visual elements added to a computer generated collage. What other erasure styles might you add? What are you most excited about trying?

From the forward of dear friend, and amazing book supporter, Kevin Sampsell’s I Made An Accident, he says: “When this book comes out, I’ll be about seven years into this obsession. There was a time early on when I remember thinking to myself: I want to be the best collage artist in the world. I laugh at myself and cringe when I think about that now. I’ve met so many artists, thinkers, and innovators in the collage world, many of whom deserve their own book. The best collage artists in the world right now, in my opinion: Ben DeNino, Andrea Burgay, Lance Letscher, and Michael Turk.’

A couple more examples of these techniques:

Jen Bervin’s Nets is reviewed.

Also Mary Reufle’s “Melody” review: