How to Write a Pastiche Poem

What Is the Purpose of a Pastiche?

A pastiche poem is one that ​imitates the style of another famous poem.​ A pastiche imitates the style, form and sometimes the subject matter of the original poem, just like a parody. However, unlike a parody, a pastiche is not written to mock or satirize the original work; Instead, it is written as an homage. In other words, we use pastiches to honor the original literary work that we are imitating. A pastiche also serves as an exercise that writers can use to hone their craft by learning about style and technique from another writer and incorporating these techniques in their own poem.

Here are a few useful tips to write your own pastiche poem.

Tips for Creating a Pastiche

1. Study the Style

Before you can write a poem imitating another poem, you need to ​understand what makes the​ ​original work​ ​distinct.​ To do this, you need to study the style of the poem. Determine if the poem falls into a particular literary style, such as Romanticism or Modernism. If so, this will determine the content of your pastiche.

For example, ​romantic poems​ emphasize subjectivity and feeling, and they use nature as a backdrop or symbol of expression. Contrarily, ​modern poems​ tend to emphasize the poet’s personal imagination, culture, memories, and emotions through elements like stream of consciousness, disrupted syntax, and imagism. You would need to adhere to those same characteristics in your pastiche depending on the style of the original piece.

2. Determine the Form

While some poems are written in free verse, a great many more adhere to a particular form. You will need to ​determine the form of the poem that you want to imitate​ before you can write your pastiche. Some examples include sonnets, ballads, epics and elegies. When you write your pastiche, you will need to adhere to the characteristics of the form.

For example, an English sonnet has three quatrains and ends with a rhyming couplet. The pattern for the rhymes (the rhyme scheme) in an English sonnet is ​abab cdcd efef gg​. When writing a pastiche of an English sonnet, you would need to use this same rhyming pattern and form.

3. Choose Something to Change

Of course, you can't copy everything about a poem. That would be transcription, not writing. In order to avoid any sort of plagiarism within your poem, you will have to ​choose something to change about it before writing the​ ​pastiche​. Possible elements to change include the setting, characters, plot, point of view or the dialogue. Of course, if you change one of these elements, it can alter other elements as well.

For example, if you changed Annabel Lee to a dog named Cannibal Flea, that would probably change the whole plot of the famous poem by Edgar Allen Poe — or maybe not. You can choose as many elements as you want to change. The key is to stick to the style, form and conventions of the poem.

4. Advance the Work

The key to writing a pastiche is not just to imitate. The practice is supposed to help you learn more about your own writing and make it better. Therefore, ​you should also find a way to​ ​advance the poem.​ Maybe you create a contrast that reveals an irony about the characters, or you use a point of view that creates new understanding of the subject matter. You don't necessarily have to try to create a new masterpiece, but you should aim to create something new.

Examples of Literary Pastiche

1. ​Music:​ One place you will very often find literary pastiche being used is in music. One example is Queen's "Thing Called Love" which is a pastiche of Elvis Presley.

2. ​Books:​ Anthony Horowitz novel, The House of Silk, is a pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries. This novel follows Holmes and Watson on a journey to unlock a mystery, which leads to them discovering a murder.

3. ​TV:​ Sometimes TV shows and even movies will incorporate references and stylistic choices from other programs. This can be seen in South Park's episode entitled, "Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery", which mimics the famous cartoon Scooby Doo.

Examples of Pastiche in Poetry

A good example of Pastiche poetry in action is a poem by Dave McClure entitled ​The Traveler,​ in which McClure imitates the classic Edgar Allen Poe poem, ​The Raven.

First, take a look at the opening lines of ​The Raven​:

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

"‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –

Only this, and nothing more.”

Poe’s poem, like his other work, takes on a very serious, dark tone. Now, let’s look at the opening stanza of ​The Traveler​:

“Long ago upon a hilltop (let me finish then I will stop)

I espied a curious traveler where no traveler was before.

As I raised an arm in greeting all at once he took to beating

at the air like one entreating passing boats to come ashore

like a castaway repeating empty movements from the shore

or an over-eager whore.”

Notice how, in McClure’s poem, the words are arranged in the same way as they are in Poe’s poem. ​The Traveler​ also utilizes the same rhyme scheme as ​The Raven.

Clearly, ​The Traveler​ is an imitation of ​The Raven,​ considering the contrasting tones of each poem; while Poe maintains his usual grave tone, McClure’s is actually quite humorous. This is not to say, however, that McClure is mocking Edgar Allen Poe’s work. McClure artfully selects relevant elements of Poe’s classic poem to use in his own work, creating a new poem that communicates an entirely different message while paying respect to the very piece that inspired it.