“After ___________”

A prompt featuring V. Penelope Pelizzon’s “Some Say”

V. Penelope Pelizzon’s poem “Some Say,” modeled very loosely on Sappho’s fragment 16,  is a stellar example of a literary imitation—a new poem based on an old poem. Your challenge is to write another. First, choose a model, ideally one that is (a) from a different language and (b) quite old; both kinds of distance can open unexpected vistas and allow you a certain creative leeway. It may be a poem you already know or one you dig for.

If possible, read multiple translations, even if you know the original, to expand your sense of your model’s possibilities. Look for elements that might be modernized or personalized. For example, Sappho’s love poem begins with a series of ancient military images; Pelizzon begins hers with a radically modern military image (that “Sukhoi T-50 performing a Pugachev’s Cobra”) but later returns to (and recontextualizes) Sappho’s images (“an army of ships / of horses an army of men on foot”) at the end of her poem.

Now write your own poem, imitating whatever original elements interest you but departing from the original as much (or as little) as your poem needs you to.

Acknowledge your inspiration with an epigraph like Pelizzon’s: “after _____.”


For more notes on imitation, see Geoff’s essay “Exhuming Vallejo,” Poetry, November 2014.