Poem imitations are gateway writing experiences, in which student poets borrow the bones of a poem’s structure, but put on flesh of their own. First, I like to share an imitation, drawn from a poem that we have already studied. In this, I embed links to the original texts and credit the original poets. “My Brother’s Nails” is an imitation of Stanley Plumly’s “My Mother’s Feet.” By this point in the year, my students know I have a younger brother on the autism spectrum, but I share with them that poetry is my genre of choice when writing about him. Depending on the class, I might not use that imitation, but I have others! Imitating “Hanging Fire” by Audre Lorde planted me firmly back in my days as a heartbroken college student. And imitating “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur captured a precious snapshot of my own child. Find time to share one imitation of your own prior to introducing this activity to the students. If you feel vulnerable doing so, good! Now you know how your students feel every time they share their writing with you.
Natasha Trethewey’s poem “History Lesson” is ideal, since it provides both accessibility and challenge. Students can draft an imitation of one or more stanzas of the poem in ten minutes. Here is an example of one imitation from a student, adhering strictly to Trethewey’s original form. Another example is written by a student over a longer period of time. He used the poem more as “training wheels,” which then launched him on a longer poem. It’s worth mentioning that the two student poets above are both introverted. All the more reason why they should be given opportunities to discover (and quietly celebrate!) their own unique writing voices.
Oona Marie Abrams (@oonziela) is one of the co-organizers of NerdCampNJ. She lives and teaches in northern New Jersey.