Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic (Chapter 27)

Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic is a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Susan Taylor Brown’s blog. Last week, we worked on line breaks at Susan’s blog. And the week before, we worked on sound diagrams right here, and I’ve been putting that tactic to work on some rhyming poems I’m revising right now (definitely much more challenging with rhyming poems, but very effective when I can do it!).

This week, we’re talking about Chapter 27: Imitation Is the Highest Form of Discovery. I’ll wait here while you go read it… I love this chapter! I especially like, “Let’s leave our heroes on our bookshelves, where they belong. But first, let’s raid their wardrobe, try on their shoes and bow ties and raincoats, and see what fits. By imitating shamelessly whatever you like best about others’ work, you may discover new ways of using sound, language, imagery, and form that you hadn’t considered previously.” Yes! I already do this a fair bit. When I’m working on a poetry collection, sometimes all the poems start to sound alike. Same meter, same rhyme scheme, blah, blah, blah. That’s when I grab a poetry book off my shelf and look for a poem to imitate. I’ll find a poem I love and jot down the meter, rhyme scheme, or whatever else grabs me about that poem, and then I’ll try to apply some of those qualities to a poem on a totally different topic for my collection. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s a flop. Often it’s somewhere in between. Or I’ll get something good out of it, but it will have morphed far away from the qualities I was trying to copy. But it’s always a good starting point for trying something new (or, ahem, borrowed). And Sage makes another point I hadn’t ever thought of. “That’s why imitation is invaluable; it can open the escape hatch from rules you weren’t even aware you were abiding by.” That really speaks to me. I’m sure there are plenty of rules I’ve set for myself (being a rule-following kind of person) that I’m not even aware of. So this can help me break free and follow someone else’s wild and wonderful rules or non-rules for a change. The Try This! section of this chapter is really one big exercise, so let’s dive in. 1) Find a poem you love and read it out loud several times. I’m using Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s “Firefly.” It’s a poem I love by one of my favorite children’s poets. It’s from the wonderful collection Lemonade Sun (Boyds Mills Press, 2001).


Sliver of moon.
Slice of star.
Rhinestone in a jelly jar.
Twinkling treasure
snatched from sky;
neon sparkle–

–Rebecca Kai Dotlich, all rights reserved

Isn’t that gorgeous? She has so many wonderful poems. Not only do I adore this one, but I confess I wanted to pick a short one, too. I have about 20 minutes to do this blog post, so I am not going to attempt to imitate some epic poem!

2) 3 things I admire about it

  • Her use of such concrete, vivid nouns–always a strength of hers
  • The way the title is just kinda like, ok, firefly, but then she reinvents it for me so that by the last line, firefly EARNS that italics and exclamation point
  • Her metaphors–she always makes me look at common things in totally new ways

3) I don’t think I discovered anything new about “what’s allowed” in poetry. Just a good reminder of what I aim for–and miss.

4) Write a poem that uses those three techniques. I’ll try. I’m also going to copy Rebecca’s line/meter. Quickly. So this will be rough.

Here’s what I came up with:


Water cooler.
Rooted cloud.
Bass–murky shadow shroud.
Green-frog launcher,
dewdrop- clad.
Floating meadow?

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

5) What worked and what didn’t

Well, I like the list of things. Mine are more literal than Rebecca’s, showing the different roles of the lilypad. I wish I had gone more fanciful with mine. And I’d like to do more research to find fish and frog species that work better, language-wise. But for an exercise, I’m pretty happy with it. If I were working on it for a collection, I’d play around with other rhyming pairs. But I definitely got more concrete nouns in here, and that’s one thing I’m constantly struggling to do. Now, what about you? Will you either find a favorite poem to imitate, or use Rebecca’s if it’s a new favorite for you? I’d love to see what you come up with! And, of course, share your opinions about imitation and anything else in the chapter you want to talk about.  

2 Responses

  1. “Lilypad” idea I’ll try to imitate with varying line length and good nouns. Thanks.

  2. “Lilypad” idea I’ll try to imitate with varying line length and good nouns. Thanks.

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