It is that time again when I begin my poetry unit with my students. To help them overcome their fear or disdain in reading poetry, I have them start by reading Emily Dickinson, perhaps not someone's first choice. We discuss her life as a recluse and her unique style of rhythm, capitalization, and punctuation. Then I have them pick one of her poems to do an imitation/parody. When I explain that a parody is like a "Weird Al" Yankovic song -- in a sense you are imitating the rhythm and rhyme of the poem but coming up with your own words -- they warmed up to the activity. Here are just a few examples of my students' work:
Much Sadness is divinest pain --
To an Emo eye --
Much Pain -- the starkest of Darkness --
'Tis not the Majority --
In this, as all will never prevail --
Ascent to darkness -- and you will be sane --
Demure -- you're straightaway to a painful pathway --
And handled with a pitiful sadness chain.
----- by Thoua Chue and Wa Xiong
Tell a lie, but tell it good.
Success is in successful lies,
not bright for our firm delight.
A truth lies superb surprise,
as thunder to the children's nightmare
with dreams of lies.
The lie must blind gradually
or every man be able to see.
----- by Matt Timmons and Elizabeth Burleson
This is our letter to the class.
We never heard a worse song
than Mr. Hampton's sing-a-long.
For this, we hopefully won't get bashed.
Every week he hands out tests
in his gray little sweater vest.
He tried to sing us Gilligan's Island.
It's pretty sad because we think
he tried his best.
----- by Megan Morehead, Luis Diego, and Alex Wells
I included this last poem to show I'm not above a good-humored joke at my expense. As an illustration of how Emily Dickinson used almost exactly the same tight rhythm and meter in her poetry, I demonstrated how you could almost take any poem of hers and sing it to either the tune of Gilligan's Island or The Yellow Rose of Texas. Try it sometime for yourself. It works!