Your Ghostly Companion

In The Poetry Lesson, his irreverent, funny, and instructive book, the poet Andrei Codrescu draws upon his many years of experience teaching creative writing. He talks at length about one of his strategies: he assigns to each student a “ghostly companion”—a poet from anywhere, any time period (including the present), with whom the student may be said to have a secret connection. If it is the first day of classes and the instructor doesn’t know the students, he or she might assign ghostly companions according to some arbitrary method—a student whose name begins with G might get Goethe or perhaps Allen Ginsberg, Louise Glück, or Linda Gregerson.

I propose that we adopt this idea with the difference that each of us gets to choose her or his own “companion” using the criteria of your choice, whimsical or earnest, deep or superficial. It might be a poet who was born on your birthday; or someone with whom you feel a strong affinity (or antipathy); or, on the model of Codrescu’s default method, someone whose last name begins with the same letter as yours.

Once you have determined the identity of your companionable ghost, choose a poem by that person and rewrite it in significant ways that leave the reader unaware that your poem had an antecedent. One way to fulfill this assignment is to print out the chosen poem in triple-space and write your own poem between the lines. If instead of rewriting the poem you decide to argue with it, well, why not?

In your entry, don’t feel obliged to name your ghostly companion. Let us read the poem without reference to its antecedent. On the following week, everyone will be expected to reveal the identity of the GC and the title of the poem you chose. Think of it as an opportunity to promote favorites and un-favorites, who gain just by gaining the attention.

This is going to be fun.

Deadline: Saturday night, June 23, midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

David Lehman, a contributing editor of the Scholar, is a poet, critic, and the general editor of The Best American Poetry annual anthology and author of the book One Hundred Autobiographies. He currently writes our Talking Pictures column.


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