The Many Faces of Persona Poems

Today’s post comes from Susan J. Erickson, also known as susanjer in these parts. When she pitched her idea, I just happened to be ready to share a specific type of prompt that fit perfectly. (Guess what we’re writing tomorrow?)

I’m always open to guest post ideas. If you’re interested in writing one, please send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwcommunity.com with the subject line: Poetic Asides Guest Post.

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I’ve been writing persona poems long enough to say I’m addicted to them. It started out innocently with writing a ballad in the voice of Frida Kahlo for a poetry class I was taking.

Then while reading a biography of John James Audubon I learned about his wife, Lucy, and wrote some poems from her point of view–being the wife of a man who was obsessed with birds meant feathers sometimes flew. Over time I ended up with a full-length manuscript of poems in women’s voices.

What is the Persona Poem?

The persona poem is a poem in the first person in which the speaker is NOT the author. “Persona” means “mask” in Latin, so in a persona poem the author puts on the identity of someone other than themself.

You can adopt the voice of someone from history like Lucy Audubon, a fictional character like Hansel, someone in an odd or unusual profession such as Shaindel Beers did in her poem about knife throwers on Day 8 of this year’s PAD Challenge, someone in the newspaper, or someone that exists only in your imagination.

Poems in the voice of inanimate objects, animals or natural forces could also be considered persona poems.

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Recreating_Poetry_Revise_PoemsRe-create Your Poetry!

Revision doesn’t have to be a chore–something that should be done after the excitement of composing the first draft. Rather, it’s an extension of the creation process!

In the 48-minute tutorial video Re-creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems, poets will be inspired with several ways to re-create their poems with the help of seven revision filters that they can turn to again and again.

Click to continue.

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Why Write Persona Poems?

Here are some reasons I suggest experimenting with the persona poem.

Persona poems exercise the imagination. The writer steps out of the confessional “I” in the familiar and comfortable living room of their life into a space that someone else has designed. To be successful the writer must develop a convincing and authentic voice. And the details chosen must breath life into the poem and provide the reader with an unanticipated insight or an unexpected outlook.

If you choose a subject like Frida Kahlo about whom much has been written, you need to have a fresh take on her life. Sometimes the voice and details can be supplied from the imagination, but sometimes, the writer has to do research which is another plus of the persona poem for me.

The persona poem is versatile. It can be written as a monologue, a dialogue or in the form of a document such as a letter, note, journal entry, postcard, confession or tweet.

For the PAD challenge the persona poem can be adapted to many prompts. I wrote at least six persona poems to this year’s prompts. For example, in response to the Secrets prompt on Day 2, I wrote a poem called “The Secret Speaks” which might be labeled as a persona poem from the point of view of an idea.  I found it useful to have the persona poem option in mind when challenged to write a poem each day.

Persona poems allow the writer to tackle sensitive subjects and to express opinions and emotions that are uncomfortable and unpopular.

Persona poems allow the writer to misbehave and to embrace their shadow self.

For further reading see the Persona Issue of Poemleon and A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry which offers some 500 pages of persona poems. I’ve also included a link to a recent interview about my persona poem process that includes links to my poems online.

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Susan J. Erickson

Susan J. Erickson

Susan J. Erickson admits to “poetic multiple personality syndrome” having assumed the persona of a host of women while completing a manuscript of poems in women’s voices.

Her poems appear in 2River View, Crab Creek Review, Museum of Americana, The Fourth River, Naugatuck River Review and Literal Latte and in anthologies such as Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry.

Susan lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she helped to establish the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Walk and Contest. Egress Studio Press published her chapbook, The Art of Departure.

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3 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Persona Poems

  1. Bruce Niedt

    I love writing persona poems too. This is an excellent summary of why they’re so great and how to approach writing them. For example, I have written poems from the point of view of the widow of a fisherman, the ghost of John Lennon, a deer in a forest fire, the “Magic Mud” that all the MLB teams rub on their baseballs, and the planet Mars.

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