Imitation

In class this week we took a look at Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem We Real Cool. We talked about the different components of it and what made it the poem as it is. We brought up the alliteration, the simple syllables, short action verbs, and personal pronouns that characterize the poem. It’s a fairly simple poem that is able to tell a story with just a few words.

After we were done discussing it a bit we were tasked with imitating the poem. How we did so was up to us. I chose to focus on most of the elements that were discussed in class. My version uses short action verbs with simple syllables and a repetition of the first word of the sentence. I didn’t pay particular attention to alliteration, though a bit was able to creep into my poem.

This was a unique experience for me. I don’t write poetry. Nor do I typically enjoy reading it all that much. I’ve written two poems in my life that I actually liked, both for a class assignment at some point. But never anything for fun. Writing this poem followed the same pattern of doing it because I was told I had to not because I actually wanted to. And I didn’t end up liking it all that much. Here’s my version of the poem:

I wore out. I

Have doubt. I

Hold strong. I

Headstrong. I

Shout soft. I

Stay ‘loft. I

Stand proud. I

Live loud.

But the experience itself has taught me something. I was able to imitate the style of someone else who has found success with poetry. I don’t want to go around imitating everyone but it taught me that I can. And I also have a better understanding of that poem now. By trying to recreate it I learned more about it than any amount of analysis could have taught me. Which makes me wonder how much better I would be at poetry if I had been made to imitate the words of others more often. One exercise has allowed me to learn this much. What would have happened if I had been made to imitate Shakespeare’s sonnets or Edgar Allen Poe’s work? Would I like writing poetry? Or would I just understand it a lot better? These are questions that were raised by this activity.

And questions that I intend to ask myself from the perspective of a teacher. Would an exercise like this be able to help my eventual students learn more about poetry too? It’s something that I will have to continue to consider.

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