Erasuring Anxiety

Prompt Against Anxiety #1 | from Woodland Pattern Book Center Manager and gifted translator from the Polish Peter Burzynski


Erasure is a generative creative writing practice based on the destruction, redaction, retelling, reframing, repurposing, and renegotiating of an existing text. The text can be any written or printed document including newspaper articles, tweets, poems, novels, reports, instruction manuals, treaties, proclamations, etc.

For the purposes of this exercise, choose an article in a newspaper or online. If the article is online print it out. (Tip: you may want to copy-paste the article and delete ads and images to save ink.) Place your news article on a disposable piece of material in case your marker bleeds through. Strike any words that make you feel anxious. On the contrary, keep an eye out for interesting verbs and adjectives that please you. 

Finding a Poem

After you have finished redacting text, shift through the words that remain. Take a few moments to read over the redacted news article even though it may sound odd. These remaining words are your new limited lexicon, your palette of prosody!

Reconstructing the Language

Begin writing using only the words you've got left. But hey? This doesn’t make any sense. That’s okay! What may seem like a skipping record of syntax may make sense sonically, emotionally, or spiritually. 

But seriously, this is gobbledygook. I can’t just say, “Continue reading would provide ore none on floor asked to join in-person saying Italy’s Milan on Thursday.”

Don’t worry. Now's the time to add any articles or prepositions you need and change up the punctuation. Also, feel free to rearrange the pages if you have multiple sheets and recombine bits of text. Are there lines or phrases that already stand on their own? Notice any compelling interactions among them.

You can also further edit specific words. For example, if "released" exists in your text, you can redact the first three letters and get "eased." You can also consider changing words to their plural, possessive, past, present, or future forms. Isn’t this relaxing?

* * *

Second & Subsequent Drafts

Okay. So you have manipulated your remaining words and punctuation, but your poem does not quite feel right. 

That’s fine. Now is the point at which you should cease erasing and modifying, and begin to add words and create new images from the text you're working with. Try to avoid adverbs and too many abstract nouns. For example, if you’d like to describe happiness, do not straight up write happiness. Write an image of happiness instead: “I was the first balloon to escape that March.”

And remember that any writing prompt’s constraints are only useful until they are no longer such. The point is to generate a first draft. The second and subsequent drafts ought truly be your own. 

Whenever I write a poem I print it out and put it in my back pocket. I carry it with me all day and night and tinker with it, reread it, obsess, write, and rewrite. With the exception of obsessing, I suggest you do the same.


Here's My First Draft


Dated as us urged past right now
asking labor to hold off
releasing limits. Keep refraining 
from soon. Existing could be
unveiled. Rescue many talks.
Face more generous talks.
Continue reading.
Thanks for reading.
Stone elsewhere. Profess
people’s movement.
Gatherings attempt
to keep their spirits.
Evenings applaud
a show in defiance.
Rivers bolster culture.
Continue reading.
Here’s what it was like easing
the precise public refrain 
of art: home grows.
Art (ounce) is a recommendation.
Require place.
Continue reading.
Of the pans first ready
the Penta wrestles. Rocket
stay longer.
Continue reading. 
A dwindling box
can extraordinary.
Produce, equip, and
continue reading.
Stark, we ear.
This project is urgent—art-icipation.
Would people Oxford? Make ass?
We have to move every barrier.
Exaggerate the potential of drugs.
The remedies have been community. 
Continue reading.
It was important to give hope.
It was important to hope.

And My Second... 


Dated as we are being urged 
past the right now of right now
by asking labor to hold off
releasing limits. Let’s keep refraining 
from the soon. Existing could be
unveiled as flowers bloom. 
We must rescue many talks.
Face(time) more generous talks.
Continue reading.
Thanks for reading.
Stones are elsewhere. Profess
the people’s movement.
Gatherings attempt
to keep our spirits and win.
Evenings applaud
as a show of defiance.
Tangled rivers bolster culture.
Continue reading.
Here’s what it was like easing
the precise public’s sonorous refrain 
of art: our homes will grow.
Art, even a single ounce,
is a welcome recommendation.
We require a new place to exist.
Continue reading.
Out of the mind’s cast-iron pans 
first ready
with crackling conversation
the five-sided thoughts wrestle. 
Dearest Rocket,
stay longer.
Continue reading. 
A dwindling box
can be extraordinary.
Please produce, equip, 
and continue reading.
Stark, we ear each other.
This project is urgent—art-icipation.
Would people afford to not make art? 
We have to move every barrier and not
exaggerate the potential of known drugs.
The true remedies have been community. 
Continue reading.
It is important to give hope.
It is important to hope.

Community Responses


Erasure of “Putting Jared Kushner in Charge is Utter Madness” from the New York Times (April 2, 2020)

Hour of existential virus threat
Urging, suddenly and mysteriously,
Into the conflict dream 
Of a life support economy

Herky-jerky Vanity Americans
And all dizzy with terror

The apex of alarmist capacity,
Projections, and smarter infectious

With as little expertise,
Made debut
Based on projections,
Born to the right parents,

Foray into broker a peace
Between the failures

Undeterred, arrogated to a major role
Fighting epochal crisis

Its knees

Behind response —
Is dilettantism raised

Business record,
Speaking to people
He bought in 
2006, as a disrupter

Again and again she said
It better than supreme confidence
His own abilities,
Own judgement,
Even what he was about

Confidence prison,
A crushing family debt debacle 

Authority has taken charge of
The production and distribution of
Disaster response

Adherence to
Competing power centers —

Structure is to 
Drive this
To chaos

A motif of confusion,
Disjointed —

“Assume you are on your own in life”
“Assume you are on your own in life”


—Bryon Cherry, Milwaukee, WI

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The Family PhotographPrompt #15—Rosa Alcalá

Note(s) to SelfPrompt #13—Stacy Blint

Embracing ConfusionPrompt #12—Bryon Cherry

Writing/Playing the ArchivePrompt #11—Jay Besemer

CAPTURED & FREEDPrompt #10—Dasha Kelly Hamilton

Poetic Exit StrategiesPrompt #9—Ana Božičević

Proyecto ConbífPrompt #8—Erick "CK" Ledesma

TRILOGYPrompt #6—CA Conrad

Utopian CompromisePrompt #7—Paul Druecke

A Series of RoomsPrompt #5—Laura Solomon

Two Variations on N+7Prompt #4—Jenny Gropp

T H E A P A R T / TOGETHERPOEMPrompt #3—Margaret Rozga

An Exercise in WindowsPrompt #2—Marla Sanvick

Erasuring AnxietyPrompt #1—Peter Burzynski

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