A Lesson on Erasure with "Banner"



In this lesson students will:

  • Identify an erasure of "The Star-Spangled Banner"
  • Identify techniques associated with erasure and analyze their effects
  • Write an erasure poem



Since time immemorial, no doubt, writers have been using scraps of language from the conversations and texts around them in their creative works. And we know that poems entirely comprised of appropriated texts have been around for at least a hundred years, thanks to dadaist Tristan Tzara, who around the 1920s shared his idea of making poems from the words in newspaper articles, cut up and shuffled.

These days, we call such works "found poetry," and this category has become as well established in the world of poetry as collage and remix have in the visual arts and music. Erasure is a popular form of found poetry, in which the author creates a poem or poems from a single existing text. Usually the result is something dramatically different from the original—not unlike the way that the sleek marble statue differs from its original slab of rock.


Encountering the Poem

  1. Read the poem aloud, projecting it or passing it around for students to see.
  2. Allow students to identify the source text from which "Banner" is made. If necessary, provide assistance by introducing the topic of erasures and pointing out that the title is a segment of the source text's title. Ask students what phrases in particular helped them to make the identification.
  3. Ask students why the poet might have chosen "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the subject for an erasure?
    1. Answers might include the lyric's recognizability, its dramatic diction, and the poet's desire to confront the violence of American nationalism as symbolized by this text.
  4. Focusing on the part of the poem that corresponds to the familiar first verse of the national anthem, what are some significant ways the poet has changed this text?
    1. Answers might include shifts in perspective (the removal of the original's "you" and instead the direct address of "dawn"), changing words through partial erasure ("perilous" becomes "peril"), reshaping sentences (the words that closed the first verse now part of a question that continues into the second verse), and a stark change in tone (from one of vigorous pride to one of mortal terror).
  5. Why might the poet have decided to leave white spaces in the poem corresponding to the omitted text? How would the poem be different if the poet had compressed the remaining phrases into regular lines?


Writing Prompt

Select a text of at least 250 words about which you have strong feelings. It could be a newspaper article, an email you received, a famous speech, an essay you were assigned in one of your classes—nearly anything. Avoid other creative works (songs, poetry, fiction), and look for text that has interesting language in addition to interesting ideas. Be sure to attribute your source material if it is not immediately recognizable.


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