First, if you don’t know the amazing Langston Hughes poem, “Theme for English B,” go read it now. It’s ok. I’ll wait.
Now I’ll just provide a short introduction, and then you can read an imitation of this poem written by one of my students in Form & Technique of Poetry this past semester. This is our beginning poetry writing class at USF, and yes, one of my assignments is for them to write an imitation poem. It’s not only a great way to learn techniques; it’s also a long-standing literary tradition, and many publishing poets still use it as a way to get a poem started. Also, it often produces terrific student poems, as the original poem both frees them from their worries about being profound and challenges them to think in ways they hadn’t before.
So this is one of many wonderful student poems I got to read this semester. Like so much of my students’ work, it showcases issues we still must face in America in 2013–for example, the issue of race and higher education. And of course it gets me thinking about the links between (to steal Taylor Mali’s phrase), “stage” poetry and “page” poetry. But mostly this poem just makes me sit back and recognize the unique wisdom each one of our (often very young) students brings into the world, and reminds me that my job involves me being a part of that. How very lucky I am.
Theme for Form/Technique of Poetry
by D’von Edwards
The professor said,
Go home and imitate
one of the great poets that inspires you
and let yourself run through the words–
in this way, anything that comes out will be yours.
As if it’s ever that simple.
I am eighteen, black, born in Miramar, Florida.
I lived there. I loved there. I thrived there.
I survive here.
I am the only colored student in my class.
After lesson I prefer to take the route home I know best
on pothole ridden back roads
past unscrupulous characters,
through empty parking lots
and up into the bowels of Castor Hall
where I sit at my desk and go back to Miramar to write this:
As if it’s ever that simple.
Some of the very lines I write
I used in rhymes in a life past.
It’s not the same though.
If they’re confined to a page they aren’t free to be me.
They don’t crack with excitement at the thought of a challenge
or burn with righteous indignation
nor do they bleed with enough sarcasm to exsanguinate my insecurities.
They don’t eat, sleep, drink, smoke, or know of being in love
or tell you they are plagued with the paradox of being home sick and sick of home.
If they aren’t me who can they be?
Maybe they belong to the person that credits their worth
with credits and comments and numbers and A’s and B’s and C’s .
And for the hell of it, I’ll add a line about bad bitches with double D breasts,
and it will belong to the same person who will put a third to complete the trilogy
of misogyny, lewdness, and failure.
That is me, but the words on the page are yours,
do with them as you wish.
This is my imitation poem for Form/Technique of poetry.