The difference between imitation and creation is doing things with a purpose.
This is also one of my steps in How To Be Original.
My mother introduced me to poetry in middle school when she gave me access to her library. There I discovered a book called An Introduction to Poetry by X.J. Kennedy. It is a much friendlier introduction than Sound and Sense by Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, which was the standard textbook at my High School.
“A frequent objection to a book such as is this is that poetry ought not to be studied at all. In this view, a poem is either a series of gorgeous noises to be funneled through one ear and out the other without being allowed to trouble the mind or an experience so holy that to analyze it in a classroom is as cruel and mechanical as dissecting a hummingbird.”
X.J. Kennedy guessed that I would be annoyed to study poetry rather than enjoy it for what it was. My writing reflected this sentiment because it was often peppered with purposeless poetic devices. It sounded like poetry, it looked like poetry, and it had very little meaning other than to feel like poetry. This is imitation.
At first, it is enough to learn about the devices, such as figurative speech, imagery, allusion, sound, and pattern. To learn to spot them is next. Then “We have to be willing to offer it responses besides logical understanding.” Or learn to experience poetry logically and emotionally. Only then can it be truly evaluated for its purpose.
When you learn to study poetry this way you are also learning to study all sorts of texts, picture books, novels, songs, the strategies are all similar. And when you understand why, your creation process will be richer for it.