Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Catatonically Speaking

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or is it? If someone impersonates George Bush or a Hollywood celebrity on Saturday Night Live or Mad TV, is that necessarily flattering? It depends on the content and style of the impersonation, of course, but I would say that pillorying someone - mimicking them in a way that maliciously mocks their attributes - is not generally very complimentary to the person being lampooned.

When it comes to literature, naturally, the more imitators the better, or at least that's the consensus among scribes. If a lot of people are attempting to mimic a given writer's style, then the imitated writer is probably revered as an erudite innovator.

Of course, there could be some writers who are widely imitated for their BAD style, but that does’t seem to happen to much, at least that I’m aware of.

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" is perhaps the most imitated - indeed lovingly parodied - of all poems in the English language. Here is a few excerpt from several “Raven” parodies:

The End of the Raven
by Edgar Allen Poe's cat

On a night quite unenchanting, when the rain was downward slanting,
I awakened to the ranting of the man I catch mice for.
Tipsy and a bit unshaven, in a tone I found quite craven,
Poe was talking to a Raven perched above the chamber door.
"Raven's very tasty," thought I, as I tiptoed o'er the floor,
      "There is nothing I like more."

The Query
Adapted by Rob Collins

Once upon a midnight dreary, fingers cramped and vision bleary,
Program manuals piled high, and wasted paper on the floor,
Longing for the warmth of bedsheets, still I sat there, doing spreadsheets
For the high and mighty deadbeats whom I do computing for --
For the overpaid executives who left at half past four --
                                                            Too important to ignore.

And my personal favorite, since it touches on the subject of school:

The Raven Parody
by: Matthew Culberson and Amanda Coker
Once upon a class so boring I was sleeping and loudly snoring,
Dreaming of my home and forgotten chores--
While I slumbered, nearly drooling, suddenly I met the flooring,
I got up quickly to escape detection, detection by Mrs. Moore--
"Oh my gosh" I muttered "I just fell onto the floor--
only that and nothing more"

The internet abounds with such imitations, and indeed, even in my own classroom I have assigned students to write Poe parodies, beacuse he had such a grip on cadence, internal rhyme, and imagery. It really helps build a student’s writing skills to imitate authors like Poe. (Apparently author Sandra Maddux-Creech agrees - check out her poem "The Parrot" in this issue)

And in the end, that’s what’s salient to remember about author imitation: that through mimicking the styles of more accomplished writers, we are not only paying homage to those writers, but we are getting into the skin, as it were, of that author, and miming his or her thought process. This invaribaly helps us refine our own writing.

Of course, all writing is imitation, to a degree, because in order to develop our own voice, we must first read other authors and then attempt to write in the styles that resonate with our own. Granted, most good writing is nuanced iimitation of a variegated mish-mash of authors, rather than a brazen xerox of one particular writer.

But I like the idea of brazenly xeroxing a particular author, as well, because I find that this is exceptionally challenging to manage. I myself have only done it once -- (shameless self-promotion alert) I ripped off Rimbaud in my poem "Eternity found," published over at Wings of Icarus -- and while I was pleased with the result, by no means would I claim that my Rimbaud rip-off usurps the actual Rimbaud. Not even close.

The author imitations found within this issue manage the task of personifying other scribes quite admirably. Of course, I have not read all of the authors mimicked herein, so how would I know? Well, I can tell just by the poems and stories themselves that both the original author’s work and the imitation are studded with stars of luminescent beauty. How's that for sychophantic hypberole? But seriously, the quality of the pieces published speak volumes for themselves as well as for the original work.

As for our featured poetry and fiction: Author Michael Frissore writes the most hysterical anti-poetry; it's Dada-esque in its sensibilities, and frivolously fun, and yet oddly powerful. Fiction-wise, we have chosen to feature Henry Long's imitation, which quite creatively captures the untamed spirit of Richard Brautigan.

And for those authors that I have read, what I note with much interest is that some author imitations harness the spiritual essence of an author's work, while others exist as eerily exact replicas. There is no one way to imitate an author, in other words, and nor should there be. We can imitate an author's theme treatment, cadence, dialogue, figurative language, dialect, line breaks, and so on, or, we can practically copy the author word for word, in a fit of plagiaristic hedonism.

And now for something completely different: I exhort any American progressives reading this to put your bucks where your trap is, and support Dennis Kucinich! It appalls me that so many American progressives are so brutally brainwashed by corporate robot Democrats and (mis)led by the misguided mentality that someone like Kucinich is not electable. That’s just not true, because the more that real progressives support someone like Kucinich, the more electable he will suddenly become! Of course, Kuncinich has already gained huge support and indeed wins many progressive internet polls. He also gets the loudest applause of anyone whenever he speaks at debates - that is, when he is allowed time to speak within a forum dominated by “frontrunners” Obama and Hillary (otherwise known affectionately by me as Pillory and Yomama - but the latter could be construed as bigotted, although it’s not meant that way, you politically correct automaton). Remember, we are not a true Democracy when the media "legitimize" certain candidates. And the media have everything to gain by “choosing” for us candidates like Hillary and Obama - after all, they are corporate coddlers, and the media thrives on advertiser greenbacks. It shouldn’t be this way, of course, because WE own the airwaves; they’ve been hijacked by commercial interests.

Also remember that I am a pessimist-progressive who voted for Nader in 2000 and spiritually supported him and Kucinich in 2004 while selling out my vote to Kerry, despite the latter’s lackadaisical lackluster campaign. That was my fear talking, of course. I actually think the whole process is a big sorry sham - but within the sphere of this sham are a few decent folk.

So check out Kucinich’s website here: www.kucinich.us and his MySpace here: www.myspace.com/kucinich.

Also check out Maryann Mann’s article, “The Heroics of Dennis Kucinich,” reprinted in this Issue with Mann’s kind permission.

Most politicians might be worth pillorying, but there are some worth ardently imitating - and since you already imitate Kucinich by being a progressive, why not go all the way and support him against the neo-con wanna-bes in Democratic disguise?

In any event, may your life imitate the vibrancy of art rather than the sterility of politics.

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