This is a guest post by Maria McLeod.

One way to break through the parameters our personal identities impose upon us is through writing persona poetry. Of course, when a poet invokes the “I,” the vast majority of poetry readers assume the “I” is the author, a prepackaged identity. On one hand, the illusion of autobiography might make readers more interested in sticking with the poem — voyeurism piquing curiosity — but on the other hand (the one I write with), I’d rather be recognized for my skills as a writer than to be confused with the characters I create. Wouldn’t you?

Aligning the “I” with the author took root during a poetic movement that came to be known as confessionalism, which marked a shift in what was deemed acceptable in poetry, to take on subjects that seemed personal, intimate, and tied to the events of the poet’s life. But this impulse to examine a narrative for what it revealed of the writer’s autobiography (or, by extension, their psychological state) did not give equal recognition to the art of generating poetic personas. Because, of course, once we put pen to page and invoke the I, we are creating and composing a version of a self. The truth of the “I” of the poem becomes a slippery fish.

This matter of identity leads me to recall a former creative writing instructor’s refrain: content dictates form. Similarly, the identities we construct, and the voices from which we speak, are necessitated by the stories we choose to tell. “I” might wear a mini skirt or hip waders, carry a hatchet or rest a baby on my right hip. Or, like Mary Poppins, I might open my umbrella, leap from a rooftop, and fly through the night sky. In poetry, anyone is made possible.

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Maria adds: “The persona poet I admire so much is Ai, whom I had the good fortune to dine with one evening when she came to visit Pittsburgh. Here is a link to more than a few of her poems posted by the Poetry Foundation.”

Read one of Maria McLeod’s persona poems, “Ghosts of Those,” in The Penn Review.

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Maria McLeod is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Mother Want, winner of WaterSedge Chapbook Contest, judged by Kim Stafford, and Skin. Hair. Bones., published by Finishing Line Press. She’s also won the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Denise Duhamel, and the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize, judged by Thisbe Nissen. Listen to Maria’s writing discussed by the editors of Painted Bride Quarterly on their Slush Pile Podcast, Episode 103, and hear McLeod read and discuss her work on Sound Poetry, Radio Tacoma, interviewed by David Gilmour. In addition to writing creatively, McLeod serves as a professor of journalism for Western Washington University.

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Maria McLeod photo by Stephen S. Howie
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March 19, 2021

Curious about persona poetry? Alexandra Teague will offer a workshop on persona poetry, Beyond the Mask: Possibilities and Pitfalls of Persona, on Saturday, March 27, 2021, 2:00-4:00pm. The class will be held on Zoom. Advance registration is required and all fees benefit the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest. See the complete description, instructor bio, and registration information on the Workshops page.

persona to persona…

April 9, 2012

A Face to Meet the Faces
The Day Nine prompt for NaPoWriMo is to write a persona poem. The persona poem allows the poet to inhabit another entity — a person, place, object, creature, etc. — and to speak from that voice. Like a mask, the persona may allow the poet to discover a surprising new personality, point of view or syntax.

Maureen Thorson offers some examples of famous persona poems on her NaPoWriMo Day Nine prompt post.

To see how a couple hundred contemporary poets have met the persona challenge, have a look at (and buy!) the wonderful new collection, A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, edited by Oliver de la Paz and Stacey Lynn Brown (University of Akron Press).

If you have a chance to attend a reading, do! Visit the website for the book to learn more and see a calendar of readings, and follow A Face to Meet the Faces on Facebook.

Have you written a persona poem today?

the persona poem…

December 5, 2011

cover image: A Face to Meet the FacesThere are many reasons to write a persona poem. Perhaps you have something to say that’s too angry or crazy to say in your own voice. Perhaps you have “voices” in your head — characters that take on a life of their own. Maybe you want to examine life from the perspective of another time…or another species…or another planet. Whatever your reason, the persona poem, or dramatic monologue, is an honorable tradition that has been around since the 19th century. Here’s what has to say about it.

Jennifer Bullis, who was a Boynton Contest judge in 2008 (among her many other credentials), recently discovered the persona of Fabiana within herself. She introduces Fabiana here and shares a Fabiana poem here. (Jennifer Bullis will be one of the featured readers at SpeakEasy 5 on Saturday, December 10 in Bellingham.)

Persona poems were the theme for the Summer 2008 issue of the online journal poemeleon.

The Spring 2007 issue of the journal Torch features an extensive interview with Patricia Smith on the subject of persona poems. Smith’s stunning book Blood Dazzler is a collection of voices from Hurricane Katrina, including the persona of Katrina herself.

The Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa assumed scores of identities in his writing. He published under his own name as well as an assortment of pseudonyms and heteronyms, the latter being persona poems. Marc Weidenbaum, on his site, Disquiet Trunk, examines the multiplication of Pessoa’s personae through the work of multiple translators.

A collection of persona poems, A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, edited by Stacey Lynn Brown and (2009 Boynton judge) Oliver de la Paz, will be published by the University of Akron Press in spring 2012. Until then, you can follow it on Facebook.

Who’s occupying your busy mind these days? Why not try your hand (or paw, for that matter) at writing a persona poem?

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