Yesterday I got worried when finding traces & hints of Samuel Beckett, a great favourite of mine, in my own writing. (Beckett really is a figure one wouldn’t try to imitate – bla – bla – bla). Today, a happy day of strange coincidences (Jung would probably call it synchronicity*), I read this in Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook:
You would learn very little in this world if you were not allowed to imitate. And to repeat your imitations 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.
But if this is true, if imitating is a way to develop ones own voice, how come I feel so troubled?
Oliver can tell me why:
Every child is encouraged to imitate. But in the world of writing it is originality that is sought out, and praised, while imitation is the sin of sins.
While visual artist traditionally have been encouraged to study old masters, writers have been expected to find their own way, right from the start.
A poet develops his or her own style slowly, over a long period of working and thinking – thinking about other styles, amongst other things. Imitation fades as a poet’s own style begins to be embraced. (…) Emotional freedom, the integrity and special quality of one’s own work – these are not first things, but final things. Only the patient and diligent, as well as the inspired, get there.
the writer, trying to find her own way …
*(Synchronicity: the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner)