For their fourth poem assignment, I had my Introductory Poetry Writing students write an imitation. A copy of the assignment prompt is below:
In chapter 1 of The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser argues that “we teach ourselves to write the kind of poems we like to read. The more poems you read, and the more models you learn from and imitate, the better your writing will get” (9). In this poem assignment, you will pick a poem of your choice from Best American Poetry or the supplemental poems on Blackboard and write a poem that is stylistically similar. Your poem must include at least three similar traits, which you will explain in a reflection that will accompany the poem. There is no length requirements for the poem, but the reflection should be about a page long (double-spaced) and explain what you like about the poem you chose and the “writing tools” you utilized in imitating it.
To prepare my students for this assignment, we dedicated one day of class to practicing close reading. We wrote a list on the board of all the literary devices we had studied over the past five weeks, then looked for examples in the poem “Difference” by Mark Doty. I asked students to be specific about how the use of that literary tool contributed to the meaning and the reading experience.
After the discussion, I distributed the assignment sheet you read above. I also showed them a poem of mine that was inspired by a poem by Noelle Kocot. I explained what aspects of Kocot’s poems I imitated and pointed out these literary devices in my poem.
Lastly, I asked them to complete a close reading of the poem they chose to imitate as a take-home assignment. This assignment was simple: print a copy of the poem and turn it in to me with a substantial amount of specific notes in the margins.
I know that imitation assignments are far from new in Creative Writing pedagogy, but the student’s poems were so fantastic, I decided this was worth sharing. I almost enjoyed reading the reflections as much as the actual poems. I was so impressed by how quickly and eloquently they incorporated these words into their vocabularies. I felt like this assignment helped students realize how important reading with an eye for craft is, and how we can find inspiration from the poems we read.
I’ll end on a quote from a student reflection that made me especially happy:
The first time we read “For Jane,” by Stephen Stepanchev, I was very confused. However, the more I read over it, and the more we learned in class about literary tools in poetry, the more the poem began to speak to me.