Pomegranate Words

  Index   ::    Lessons   ::    Critiques   ::   For Teens   ::   Book Recommendations

Poetry: Copy Change (Imitation)

"Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning to write. The ancients, the Elizabethans, knew this, profited by it, and were not disturbed. As a son of Ben [Jonson], Herrick more than once rewrote Jonson, who, in turn, drew heavily on the classics. And so on."—Theodore Roethke, "How to Write Like Somebody Else"

Imitation is the most direct route to mastering a skill—just follow the master step by step and you're bound to get it. There's a long tradition of this in the arts. Go to a museum and you�re likely to find a student tracing someone else's moves. As Roethke alludes, there is a vast history of the practice in writing as well. Imitation is a means by which we can take the past and tradition into account, but build upon, develop, and change that tradtion as well.

One specific exercise for practicing imiation is called "copy change." Bascially, you borrow another writer's structure and use it as the skeleton for your own work. But isn't this plagiarism, you ask? You may find that the new poem takes on a life of its own, and becomes a very different work than the original. If there's no trace of the source, you don't need to give anyone else credit. If, on the other hand, evidence of the original structure remains, you should give a nod to the first writer in some way.

Check out the following student example of a copy change. The source poem, which is by Emily Dickinson, is printed first. Words and word fragments that the two poems share have been put in bold text.

I hide myself within my flower,
That wearing on your breast,
You, unsuspecting, wear me too—
And angels know the rest.

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.


after Emily Dickinson

I drape myself with scarves
That wearing on my shoulders,
You, unsuspecting, think me chic—
But I know the truth.

I drape myself with scarves,
That wrap me, protect me,
And you, unsuspecting, do not know
I am lonely too.

This writer has mainly copied the beginning of Dickinson's lines, but you don't have to do the exercise this way. You can copy the endings of lines, the stanza structure, the rhyme, the pattern of repetition—select or omit any feature you want.

Now try your own copy change.

Once you complete this exercise, you can get a critique from a writing teacher.

Privacy | Contact
Copyright 2003-2008 Pomegranate Words