Imitation, Imitation Exercise

Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1897)
Frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, showing Mimicry in South African Butterflies (1890)

Class: Beginning Poetry (Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop)
Genre: Poetry
Readings: Their selection
Time: 50+ minutes

Ask that the students bring in one of their favorite poems. (My students brought in “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass, “Fever 103°” by Sylvia Plath, and “[Carrion Comfort]” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.) Have each student read the selection to the class and lead a discussion on the poem’s features, movement, and form.

Consider some of the ways one can write imitations:
  1. Imitate all or many of the strategies of that specific poem.
  2. Imitate general features of the poet’s style.
  3. Write a poem in the persona of the poet. (His/her general voice, not just the voice on the page.)
  4. Do a loose imitation using one element of the original poem. This could even include response poems, poems with lines of that poet, etcetera.
Then have them do the following exercise:
  1. Write an imitation of the poem you brought in. (15 min.)
  2. Write an imitation of one of the other poems. (15 min.)
  3. Discuss. What imitation strategy did you choose? Why? Did you find yourself more able to imitate your selection or another’s? Why? Which imitation was hardest? Can you more easily discern some of your own fundamental orientation to language, ticks, go-to strategies, etcetera through the imitation process?