When I sat down to write this “cover” essay, I didn’t know exactly what that was, so I started by thinking about television talent competitions. The judges admonish the performers to keep the original song at heart but to also make it their own—with tones, styling, lyrics or pacing. The goal being to keep the original song recognizable but also with the voice of the competitor, with emotion and resonance. I immediately thought of a holiday-themed essay by Sabrina Orah Mark. I’ve always thought it is risky to write “after” poetry or prose that is inspired by an admired writer because it can cross a line. My goal was to give the feeling of the essay, focused on the holiday season, without straying into dangerous “after” territory.In the case of this Mark essay, I tried to take the approach of covering a song but with all new words, instead of a new singing style or pacing. I decided to focus on nine main parts of the essay to “cover” that I found in the original: objects, religious aspects, a sense of place, memories, family, food, holidays, pacing, and a search for meaning. My religious background is different. My kids are older and leaving the nest soon. I tried to “cover” the original by integrating mentions of things like nuts and a holiday tree—but with my own memories as the impetus.
But first, I started at the beginning. To keep with a musical cover theme, I also included mentions of music and played with Mark’s original title to reference currently-trending songs. Her "Bah, Hum Bug" became my "Bah, Numb Bug" in the cover essay. I opened my essay with a line similar to her opening but grounded in my own place. The pacing of the essay felt important and I tried to maintain my own version of Mark’s rhythm as well in the writing tone.
I explored my approach to the holidays related to each of the main elements in “covering” the related topics. Just like a song chorus or refrain, I also inserted repetitive elements through objects and intangible things. Christmas tree. Searching for a replacement Baby Jesus. My dogs. Light. The holiday season. My hope is that in the end, I created a good enough writing homage to not get voted out by the reading public slash judges.
Amy Barnes has words at The Citron Review, JMWW Journal, Janus Lit, Flash Frog, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, Cease, Cows, Gone Lawn, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many other sites. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021 and 2022, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for NFFD, CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, The MacGuffin, and Narratively. Find her at @amygcb on Twitter. Amy is the author of three collections: Mother Figures (ELJ Editions), Ambrotypes (word west press), and Child Craft, forthcoming from Belle Point Press in 2023.