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The English word persona comes from the Greek, and it means “to don a mask.” (In ancient Greece, actors would actually wear masks to help them assume characters on stage.) For this week, I’d like us all to try writing a Persona Poem–a poem written in the first person point of view, but written from a character’s point of view that is not the poet’s own.
Here’s an example. Randall Jarrell wrote the poem The Death of The Ball Turret Gunner about a World War II soldier. It’s in the first person, but the narrator has already been killed in battle. So, for this poem, Jarrell adopts the persona of a dead soldier.
In World War II, the gunner’s job was very dangerous, indeed. He would sit in a round turret at the bottom of a fighter plane, high above the earth, manning a gun while enemy planes shot at him. The turret’s space was very small, so often the gunners were chosen because they were not large men. In the poem, Jarrell describes the small space as a womb. Traditionally, this was one of the most dangerous jobs in World War II.
Here’s the poem:
BY RANDALL JARRELL (Links to an external site.)From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.________________________________________________________ What an amazing final line! It’s obvious that if Jarrell had narrated the poem in the third person–making it simply about a young man who has been killed in war–its power would have been diffused. Poets, like actors, have the power to become someone else. For Prompt 5, I’d like us all to pick a persona and write a non-rhyming poem in that persona’s point of view. (I’d like even you fiction writers out there to write a poem this time!) Why non-rhyming? Simply put, we want our persona poems to sound natural, and most of us don’t naturally speak in rhyme. You get to choose your own persona, but here are some ideas you may use. Consider narrating a poem from the persona of:a Civil War nursea child during England’s Great Plague of 1665Tupac ShakurKurt CobainMarilyn MonroeThe mother in this iconic photograph of the Great Depression taken by Dorthea LangeSometimes, writing from a persona’s point of view requires a bit of research, but that’s the fun part. You might have learn about the persona’s times or the persona’s biography if it’s a real person. Your Persona Poem does not have to be perfect, but give this one a go. Become someone else! (Please remember to respond to at least one peer’s Persona Poem.)
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