A good poetry practice – write in the style of other greats

Early on in my poetry workshops, we practiced writing poems in the style of other poets we liked. I especially liked Frank O’Hara’s homage to Billie Holiday and tried my hand at writing in this style a couple of times. This poem came to mind when Whitney Houston died two weeks ago.

Here is Frank O’Hara’s poem for Billie Holiday

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

Frank O’Hara
, 1926-1966                               Billie Holiday, 1915-1959 


Here are my attempts (with apologies to Frank O’Hara)

The Day JFK Died

It is late morning in El Segundo, a Friday
five days before Thanksgiving, yes
it is 1963 and I am sitting in my office
not working, just filing my fingernails.
It is a slow day.

I stand around my boss’ office
with the others
and listen to the news on the radio,
smoking another Marlboro
and sobbing into an
already worn out piece of Kleenex.
I leave work early
with the hordes of others.
By 3 pm the parking lot is empty.
The heat of the day hits me
as I walk over the black asphalt.
I start my Lady Bug, light a cigarette,
and begin the drive up the Coast.

The surfers, still out there without wetsuits,
paddle their boards to catch the next waves.
The children play quietly
with their pails and shovels in the sand.
I wait at the light at Culver Boulevard, and already
The Shack patio is full.
I pull into the Sand Dune lot and
go in to buy some Chevis
and a bottle of merlot something
to keep us company
while we watch the news tonight.

My husband is already home. He greets me
with a hug. I lean on him
and we don’t say a word.
What more could we say about this day?

The Day My Jazzman Died

It is 7 am in Manhattan Beach a Thursday
three days after Yom Kippur, yes
it is 1999 and I go downstairs to the laundry room
to fold the clothes left there for days
and think about the notice of my ex-father-in-law’s
death in the LA Times.

I’m wearing my purple chenille bathrobe
that I’ve had for years
and I fold for 20 minutes or so
before I realize no noise coming
from behind the closed bathroom door,
the room next to the laundry
where Paul should be getting ready for work.
I go to his room
and the door is half open. I look inside
and it is dark. Then I look in the garage
and it appears he hasn’t left yet. His beige Volvo
is still there. I knock on the bathroom door.
No answer.
And I go upstairs.
Bob is just putting on his shoes and socks,
almost ready to leave for work
and I tell him something is not right

and he stops what he is doing and
then we go back where I came from to the downstairs
long hall and Bob tries the bathroom door and
yells, Paul, open the door, open the door,
and he goes out to the garage and gets a screwdriver
and opens the door and goes inside
and when he comes out his face,
red with tears streaming down it, says it all.
He tells me Paul is dead, call 911

and I am shaking a lot by now and
leaning on the stair railing
and Bob holds me
while he whispers Paul is dead,
we whisper, our son, Paul is dead.


  1. You pull me in, Madeline, each time I read one of your poems. Each time. Other thoughts recede into the background. My focus is on your words which pull me in, heart, mind and soul. Perhaps my response is a call for me to allow my deeper thoughts to rise and speak.
    Thank you….

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  3. Dody, I love your words, pull me in. The way you wrote this comment is like a poem.
    Thank you so much.

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