What is Erasure?

Erasure is a form of poetry that uses an existing text, selectively erasing parts of it in order to create a new text. Using a source text, the writer can delete, white out, black out, or draw over words to alter the visual effect and meaning. Some of the most successful erasures use a source text’s language in a new way to reveal a truth that may otherwise be hidden. An excellent example is U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s "Declaration." Smith’s source text is the Declaration of Independence, which she erases to unveil the ways oppression has been written into the fabric of our society.

As part of the Art for Justice project, we invite you to create your own erasure here. Our ten source texts are representative examples of legislation and policies that have directly affected incarceration rates in the United States. Many disproportionately affect people of color. These texts were chosen in consultation with The Sentencing Project and The Marshall Project and are meant to be representative; there are hundreds of examples at the local, state and federal levels that could have been used for this project. We encourage you to use this tool to think about the legacy of incarceration in the United States. Much of the language collected in our examples has imagined whole groups of people in particular, defined ways. Can you use this tool to imagine them differently?

1. Select a Source Text

2. Select a Passage

Highlight the block of text you want and click ’Next.’

Can’t decide? Would you like a random selection of text?

OR copy and paste your own text on the next page.