A Humument

This is a little like a found poem. You start with a text that already exists and transform it, picking words and phrases from it and covering the rest to make a new story, a poem, or even, maybe, a message. You might approach it as a ‘black-out poem’ but I prefer the idea of the humument. The word is a portmanteau word invented by the artist, Tom Phillips, combining human and document.  In 1966, he set out to find a second hand book for three pence and to transform it into a new book by working on each page. His project has taken him years and he has created at least two versions. We can use much smaller texts -newspapers, junk mail, old magazines.

Philips found a Victorian novel called A Human Document(hence the name A Humument) and set about changing each page, using paint, pencils, and collage to cover over most words and to highlight new stories, messages and meanings. The colours, shapes and images he chooses are all part of the recreation of the text.

To see examples of his work look at his website:


Start with something simple – a magazine or newspaper, or maybe you have a flyer that has been posted through the door.

Read the text through and choose the words that stand out for you and which convey a different message from the original. You are creating new sentences that must work from top to bottom, left to right (or in the direction that the language you are working in is conventionally written). You could start by underlining the words in pencil. Then you could draw around them in the colour that you plan to use (black felt tips are commonly used for backout poems). Finally, fill in the spaces so that only the words you have chosen are visible.

You might start by using a black felt tip. You might also like to use paints or different coloured pens or even to add drawings and different shapes or collages to the page.


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