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You would learn very little in this world if you were not allowed to imitate. And to repeat your imitation until some solid grounding in the skill was achieved and the slight but wonderful difference that made you YOU and no one else could assert itself.
-Poetess, Mary Oliver

When I consider the importance of skill in any field, my mind wanders back to my early years in nursing. In those days (I was with Florence in the Crimean war…or maybe it was a few years later) the basic education for nurses was very hands-on, so that at the end of our training we were able to manage a full load of acute care patients and even play the role of house supervisor in the hospital. Granted, soon after I graduated, requirements changed. I had to return to school for a Baccalaureate and, eventually, a Master’s Degree in my field. But it was that initial training that rendered me competent to access veins, assess a patient, administer medications…in effect, provide competent, caring service to the sick.

Just as I learned nursing through “doing” in consort with the didactic education that helped me understand the pathology of disease and the reasons behind each intervention, so too, I’ve tried to hone the crafts of poetry and fiction-writing through putting pen to paper. But as I immersed myself in this world of word-art, I continue to prime my skills through reading, writing and soaking in the wisdom of the masters and of fellow poets in writing communities who make the blogosphere a place of magic for those of us wanting to grow in our métier.

Going back to nursing for a moment, I recall the process for learning new skills. An instructor demonstrated a procedure to the students who then returned the demonstration…often on another student. There was always an aspect of mentoring. Even of imitation.

When we think of imitation, we tend to look down on it. I recall attending a writing conference in which a keynote speaker suggested copying the work of favorite authors, word-for-word, for chapters, until we got the feel of his or her voice. I couldn’t buy into that advice, although I do agree that prolific reading of quality literature enhances one’s ability to write.

Your first response to the quote of Mary Oliver that I chose to open this post could be, No way. That’s plagiarism. That’s a capital offense. Oliver disagrees, tells her readers that she believes imitation helps the beginner (and, in some respects, we’re always beginners) to learn well that which may be learned only partially.

What are some ways in which imitation can be useful?
• Review of rhymed and metered poetic forms, studying the cadence, the beat, can help give a feel for effective rhythm, whether that is applied to form poetry or free verse.
• Study of time-honored poets introduces perennial themes and expands vocabulary.
• Reading the work of contemporary poets gives rise to new forms, manners of expression, experimental verse. Consider how ideas have come to you while browsing our poetic communities.

There are dangers in imitation. It’s easy to become so enmeshed in another’s voice that you lose yourself in the process. You want your own voice to emerge, and emerge in its own unique tone.

I recently voted for a poem in a contest that included an anonymous submission process, but the voice was so distinct I knew it was the work of our own Claudia. Most of us are able to recognize the work of poets who appeal to us, whether they are world-renowned or members of our own poetry groups. If someone says to you, “I would recognize your voice anywhere,” you are on the way to arriving.

For this week’s prompt, consider writing a poem in imitation of another poet—but please allow your own voice to sing out.

Here is an example of what I’m referring to. I was amazed to see that Hedgewitch’s OLN post featured Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbirds, as I’d already drafted this post. If you didn’t get a chance to read it then, check out http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15746 Serendipity calls, don’t you agree?

Now, allow me to share with you one of several poems I’ve written, using Stevens’ poem as inspiration:

Photo: V. Ceretto-Slotto

thirteen ways of looking at trees

i
trees know
to bend with the wind
otherwise they will snap.

ii
in the winter
trees seem to die
that is when
they send down roots
a lot happens
beneath the surface

iii
some people are like trees
they reach out
comfort
provide food
shelter
beauty

iv
others
like some trees
are invasive they
choke
stifle
lesser life forms

v
trees
like some people
survive
without a lot of attention
nature provides
water
food
sometimes if they are weak
they need support
now and again
you have to prune
dead branches

vi
if you plant a tree
you are responsible for it
make sure you choose
with care
it like adopting
a child or
a pet
due diligence is needed
before you commit

vii
everyone should have
a special tree
to hold in memory
a place to go
when you are
afraid
tired
lonely
in that way
a tree is like
a mother’s lap

viii
once you put down roots
you will grow
if you become one
with your place in life

ix
learn from trees
even though they have differences
they are all trees
they belong together

x
trees are like families
sometimes
they have to give way
to make room
to one another

xi
even though trees
are many different colors
they are still trees
contrast makes them
stand out
outstanding

xii
when you puncture
a tree’s trunk
with nails
it will bleed
when you puncture
another’s heart
with words
it too will bleed

xiii
in time trees
like people
will die
to make room
for new life.

Now, I invite you to participate in this prompt, sharing, not only your poetry, but, perhaps, introducing us to poets we may not have met as yet. Consider including a link to their work in your submission. As for joining up, you know the drill:

• Write a poem and post it on your blog,
• Include your name and the link to your work using Mr. Linky,
• Take some time to visit and comment on other poets.
• Above all, have fun.

This is our chance to open up our work for critique and to hone our own skills in offering suggestions to one another. Refer back to previous critique posts for reminders on the process, remembering that the goal is to build up and support, not destroy. As a suggestion, take time to do a thorough, detailed review of the poems linked just before and after your own. Then do a comment on others as time allows, offering suggestions if you will. Keep in mind, as well, that your work is yours. When you receive feedback, I suggest (as they say in 12-Step Programs) “Take what you like, and leave the rest!”

Thank you, wonderful Pub Poets. I’m Victoria Ceretto-Slotto, honored to be a part of dVerse Poets’ Pub. You’ll find me at http://liv2write2day.wordpress.com

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