If you’re looking to develop your understanding of allusion, you’re in the right place. This class works brilliantly all on its own, but you might also want to think of it as the eighth and final part in our poetry writing series. If so, you should have a look at part 1 with Avicii, part 2 with Against The Current, part 3 with Machine Gun Kelly, part 4 with Tate McRae. part 5 with Architects, part 6 with Charli XCX and part 7 with Bring Me The Horizon.
So, what do we mean by allusion?
An allusion is a reference, typically brief, to a person, place, thing, event, or other literary work. If the reader picks up on the allusion and understands the reference, then they will understand the point the writer is trying to make. If a reader doesn’t understand – or maybe doesn’t even notice – the allusion, that extra depth of meaning will be lost.
Let’s turn to some of our favourite artists of 2022. They’ll show you exactly what it means to make good, effective use of allusion…
Holly Humberstone: ‘London is Lonely’
"Started feelin' like I'm livin' in the upside down."
If you’ve watched ‘Stranger Things’, you’ll be on Holly Humberstone’s level immediately. The ‘upside down‘ is a terrifying place, a place that’s difficult to get out of – certainly, if you get trapped there, you’ll need some good friends on board to help you escape. In Holly’s song, London is like the upside down. If you don’t quite get the allusion, the image will still make an impact – it still conveys a sense of life being topsy-turvy, but you won’t quite get the full unsettling meaning behind the singer’s reference point.
By referring to London as the ‘upside down’, what exactly is Holly Humberstone suggesting about the city and her own feelings? Use the thoughts in the paragraph above to get you kick-started. Spiderdiagram/bulletpoint your thoughts. Or draw a picture inspired by the allusion and annotate it with your ideas.
Mckenna Grace: ‘You Ruined Nirvana‘
But the worst thing that you ever did You ruined Nirvana And I can't forgive you for that
If you know anything about Nirvana, you might well understand what they represented and the kind of ideals that Kurt Cobain stood for. By saying her ex has ruined Nirvana, McKenna is kind of saying that this person has damaged all the other things Nirvana symbolise. If she can no longer listen to Nirvana, what does that really mean? When Nirvana gets taken away from her, what else gets taken away? Spiderdiagram/bulletpoint your thoughts. Or draw a picture inspired by the allusion and annotate it with your ideas.
My Chemical Romance: ‘The Foundations of Decay’
He was there, the day the towers fell And so he wandered down the road And we would all build towers of our own Only to watch the rooms corrode
September 11th. Or 9/11. Everyone knows the date. My Chemical Romance remember the day the planes flew into the Twin Towers as well as anyone. What did the falling of those towers symbolise? How does that moment link to MCR, then, deciding to build ‘towers’ of their own? What feelings are in play here? Spiderdiagram/bulletpoint your thoughts. Or draw a picture inspired by the allusion and annotate it with your ideas.
Foxes: ‘Sister Ray’
"We could make tonight one of those Sister Ray kinda nights."
You can research what The Velvet Underground were describing in their own ‘Sister Ray’ song here. Only when you get a sense of The Velvet Underground’s own Sister Ray kind of night can you take a guess at what kind of night Foxes is planning to have! What kind of night do you think Foxes’ might have? What feelings might she expect to experience over the course of that night?! Spiderdiagram/bulletpoint your thoughts. Or draw a picture inspired by the allusion and annotate it with your ideas.
S3RL featuring Dorian Electra & Nikolett: ‘Notice Me’
"Hear my siren song."
In Greek mythology, the sirens were dangerous creatures who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and mesmerising voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Based on this quote, what kind of relationship might someone expect to have with the singer/speaker of ‘Notice Me’? What kind of challenges might face the person being encouraged to hear that siren song? Spiderdiagram/bulletpoint your thoughts. Or draw a picture inspired by the allusion and annotate it with your ideas.
In class, we’ve been writing poems that revolve around a message we want to give a family member or friend. Or we’ve been writing a poem about an important message or piece of advice that a family member or friend has shared with us! We took inspiration for our poem from Avicii.
Now that you’ve had a go at exploring the allusions above, try incorporating one or two into your own redrafted version of this poem. Or maybe you want to write a brand new poem about something else entirely. Either way, make sure to carefully consider your use of allusion. You can use the allusions we’ve investigated today – or you might well want to come up with ideas that feel more relevant and personal to you.
Once you’re done, you can send your ideas (or questions) in. We want to publish the most exciting writing and offer advice.
Or have a go at writing about your experiences as a teenager with a little help from the inspirational Taylor Swift!