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Weekly Prompt: Imitation

2010 June 25

"Warhol Troopers": Artist Mike Stimpson does Warhol's famous Marilyn portrait in Lego - with a little Star Wars twist.

One of the most productive creative writing exercises that I was assigned in college was to write an imitation of Charles Wright’s poem “Clear Night.” My instructor did not give many specific instructions, other than to use the form of the poem as a type of “template” for my own.  I struggled incredibly with the assignment at first, but eventually decided to simply follow (approximately), the rhythms and repetitions of Wright’s syntax.  Once I had decided that, and chosen an opening image, I found that the content of the poem found itself.  When I first started to write,  the poem was (oddly) about mouth ulcers — but somehow that evolved into a vision of a body riddled with the effects of radiation sickness.

In particular, I found myself drawn by Wright’s magnetic use of anaphora: “And the wind says “What?” to me. / And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say “What?” to me. / And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark. / And the gears notch and the engines wheel.”  I followed these patterns closely with my own lines: “But the earth grew deaf to her. / And the ore, with its necklace of fallen particles, grows dim to her. / And the moon grows cold, and the wind shifts / And a thought slips from her fingers.”

What began as an exercise in imitation became the poem “Marie Curie, Dying,” the poem that began my obsession with writing about science and that would, in time, become the first poem of my MFA thesis.

Prompt: Write a poem that closely imitates a well-known poem, using that poem’s the sonic, rhythmic, and/or textural moves as a “template” or “form” for your own.

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