Peering into Gashes

Fingers stained black
they clutched the papers tighter
held to the light

Tell us your secrets
they begged in clamoring
voices unspoken

Through gashes of black
they strained to see
lines of printed text

In censored dark spaces
they yearned for fullness
and wholeness of the world


Last week was Banned Book Week. I posted a little paragraph to Facebook about my own experience with books that were banned by schools, camps, and my parents. I ended with a reflection that even non-banned books were subject to having words, sentences, and passages blacked out in school, and I mentioned how my classmates and I used to try to read through the heavy marker and figure out what the text was, “yearning for fullness and wholeness of the world.” Struck by the brilliance of my own spontaneous words 😉 I was inspired to write a poem…

Image: A spread from a book I own, with blacked out passages.

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When I taught eighth grade at age 19, I tried to stock my class library with some of my favorite books. Unfortunately, I myself blacked out some books for my students. This passage below is from Yolonda’s Genius by Carol Fenner, a book I loved to bits as a young adult.

Partly, though, I loved it for the passage I blacked out for my students – the parts where Yolonda stands in the adult section of the library and reads adult books until her “breathing gets heavy.” I am still saddened when I think of that struggle within me, one delighting and reveling in simple physiological reactions and the other insisting that those reactions be denied to other, younger girls.

I can viscerally feel the horror I felt then, when halfway through blacking out this book, I grew disgusted at the act I was committing, and stopped, stashed the half-wounded book away.

4 thoughts on “Peering into Gashes

  1. I always thought that banning a book only made it more attractive, and that blacking out passages would only make the denied reader more eager to read them. Then I realized that there were actually people who where chained by those terrible rules. Sad, indeed. But we’ll make it better, won’t we? 🙂

    1. Hm, maybe that’s why I’ve been resisting doing blackout poetry even though I’m intrigued by it… Though if I were to do blackout poetry with this book, I would be leaving un-blacked the words I can no longer see here 😀

      1. The thing with blackout poetry is that you are not blacking out words to keep people from reading them, at least I don’t do that. I get books that will otherwise go into the trash, and give some of the words new life. I don’t tell people what titles I used, so I’m not censoring, just upcycling paper and words.

  2. Oh, I know 🙂 Logically, I know. Associatonally, perhaps it’s still an issue. Perhaps not! I should try it someday and find out for sure 😀

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