Imitation Game

Tonight I’ll share one of my favorite prompts to use in writing workshop. It’s all about imitation.


Mary Oliver writes in A Poetry Handbook, “Before we can be poets, we must practice; imitation is a very good way of investigating the real thing.” Imitation is how human beings (and elephants!) learn!

Another interesting quote I’ve here suggests something important. “‘Everytime I fail to become Bruce Lee, I become more myself.'” To succeed in the act of imitation is never possible, we can only come close to becoming the subject of our imitation. The success comes from becoming your true self. As Oliver says at the end of the chapter quoted above: “Emotional freedom, integrity and special quality of one’s own work–these are not first things, but final things. Only the patient and the diligent, as well as the inspired, get there.”


Here’s the prompt. Find a poem that you like. Study it, read it out loud. What’s going on within it? What is the language doing? How are the line breaks shaping the content? How does the poet use imagery?

Use this poem’s structure to write a poem of your own that mimics the rhythm, flow, and sentence structure of the original. Imitate the voice of the poet you admire. How close can you get? What does the attempt teach you about writing poems? Feel free to share your thoughts below!