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My Blackout Poem

Click the image above for today’s National Poetry Month Tour stop!

On Friday, I posted an activity in which everyone could create their own poem using the Blackout Poem method. While I didn’t have time to find a paper article and take a photo, I did the next best thing and took the article I posted from The New York Times and crossed our the words I didn’t want and made the ones I wanted bold blue.

Here’s the result, and I hope you’ll share yours!

THE Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, known for his love poems and leftist ideals, died 40 years ago this September. One would hope he’d be at rest by now. But on Monday, as classical musicians played a Neruda work set to music by Vicente Bianchi, his remains were exhumed to determine whether he died from poison — instead of prostate cancer, the conventional account.

In recent years, other icons of the Hispanic world have suffered the same fate. In 2011, Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected president-elect who was deposed by a military junta in 1973, was disinterred to verify that he’d fatally shot himself. (The finding — yes — is still disputed.) The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez ordered in 2010 that the tomb of his idol, Simón Bolívar, be opened to test his theory that the liberator died of poisoning, not tuberculosis. (The theory remains unproved.)

And in 2008, a Spanish judge authorized the unearthing of a mass grave in the southern town of Alfácar to see whether Federico García Lorca, the poet and dramatist who was assassinated by Fascists in 1936, at the outset of the Civil War, was buried there. (The results were inconclusive.)

There is something gothic, but also cathartic, about summoning artists like Neruda, and his close friend García Lorca, back into the realm of the living, making us wonder if death is really the end. A Chilean judge’s decision, in February, to allow an investigation into Neruda’s death, which led to this week’s exhumation, looks like an act of expiation.

Neruda used his pen to denote, to denounce, to decry. He was 69 when the junta took power. By then he had been an embassy attaché, a senator and an ambassador. In 1969, he initially ran for president as a Communist, but later backed Allende’s candidacy. However, passion for political change was only one side of his persona. The other was that of a bon vivant. Many people enjoy life plentifully, but few have been so eloquent about it. The Dionysian sensuality of Neruda’s odes is contagious, joyful and erotic. And also destructive: Neruda’s marriage to Matilde Urrutia, his third wife and the inspiration for “The Captain’s Verses” and “One Hundred Love Sonnets,” unraveled after she learned he was having an affair with her niece.

Neruda died in a clinic in Santiago on Sept. 23, 1973 — 12 days after the American-backed coup that overthrew Allende and brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. Many Chileans have long been skeptical of the official cause of death. In 2011, Neruda’s former driver said the poet told him, on the eve of his death, that he’d been given a harmful injection by a doctor. Conspiracy theorists note that Neruda died in the same hospital where Eduardo Frei Montalva, a politician who had supported the junta before switching sides, died in 1982. A judge ruled in 2009 that Frei had been poisoned.

Could Neruda have suffered a similar fate? Allende had died on Sept. 11, 1973, and another opponent of the junta, the folk singer Víctor Jara, was assassinated on Sept. 16. Finishing off Neruda could have been the junta’s coup de grâce.

Exhuming icons is one way to deal with guilt. Elsewhere in Latin America, the past’s phantoms are resurfacing: in Guatemala, where the former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is on trial for genocide; in Argentina, whose cities are dotted with memorials to those who were “disappeared” during the “dirty war”; and in Mexico, where a once-pliant media have challenged the former president Felipe Calderón’s handling of the war against drug cartels.

But Neruda holds a special place in this grim look backward. Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian writer and a fellow Nobel laureate, has called him “the most important poet of the 20th century — in any language.”

Neruda left thousands of poems, a handful of which are of such inspired beauty as to justify the very existence of the Spanish language. Adolescents routinely give his “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” to their sweethearts. His ideological verses have been read aloud, often from memory, in one revolution after another, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the embers of the Arab Spring. Some of Neruda’s poems — “I Ask for Silence,” “Walking Around,” “Ode to the Artichoke” — have been rendered into English repeatedly, each version another effort to make him current and vital to a new generation.

  • So cool! I’ve never heard of this kind of poem before but it’s something I think I’d like to play with .

  • Love this! I had no good results on Fri, but I’m going to try again! I just love the sort of ‘found art’ aspect of it — and your poem is perfect!

    • Thanks for checking out my Blackout Poem. I hope that others will post theirs. I think it would be so fun to see what everyone creates.

  • Beth Hoffman

    LOVE IT!

    A few years ago I won a little book about blackout writing/poetry, and ever since I’ve enjoyed it (especially while on a plane).

    • I like the idea and concept of it, and I used to do it as a kid before it became so popular. I just thought it was interesting to see what the words would make if I just kept the ones I liked.

  • Wow, I’m not clever enough to do that. Yours turned out great!

    • It really isn’t about being clever, so much as blacking out the words that don’t speak to you and leaving behind the ones that do. Oftentimes the poems don’t make much sense, but its a fun creative exercise.

  • I’ll have to try this once the fog in my brain has cleared. I hate being sick lol!

    • I did this while sick and I’m surprised it makes sense.