Poetic Tidbit #1 – Personas

Today, for our first tidbit, I am going to talk about “personas” in poetry.

It is not a good practice for a reader of poetry to assume or think that the ” I ” or “me” in a poem is actually the poet.

Poets are artists who assume personas at times to hold human idiosyncrasies and habits to the light and examine and expose societal or human behaviors, sometimes negative, to shed light on them and offer them for evaluative thinking.

Unfortunately, so many poets do actually write from a real first person perspective as if all their work is a poetic memoir, diary or journal of their own lives and thoughts from their personal perspective that the fact and reality of “personas” often gets obfuscated.

Notice that when you read a good textual commentary on poetry, the commentator often refers to the individual speaking in the poem as “the speaker.” They do not ever attribute it to being the poet themselves lest they make a false assumption and blur the lines of these personas. If the speaker is the poet, that may become clear, but this way the commentator avoids mischaracterizing the poem.

A “persona” may be gender specific, an historic character, an inanimate object, an animal, whatever perspective the poet wishes to assume. Poets are innovative artists and many have within their skill-set the ability to assume a persona and change poetic voice accordingly.

Poets and writers can manipulate voice in their writing for a specific purpose and so may invent a persona. If, as a poet, I assume the character of a soldier in the American Revolution and write a poem from that perspective, the key to making it work is to have the voice come across as natural and credible.

When assuming a persona, a poet will depart from their natural personal poetic voice to write a poem “in character” and from the “character’s perspective” to handle poetic truths of life and society in a unique and powerful way. The character may be fictional, but the truths and observations are real.

Example

Still, I Go

The island of love’s tree
awaits the hour of alcohol
earth and moon aside
by the pillar of sanity’s bride
see them reach for my heart
you know I’ll go.

In the poem above I, DE Navarro, am NOT the speaker. The speaker is a fictitious character, a human being in this situation, revealing how they think, their attitude, and what drives them to this decision.

It is offered as a “slice” of life and society so the reader may view it in a personal perspective and way unlike they may have done so before. It humanizes the situation a bit more, and puts it on a “slide” to be viewed through a projector or scope or held up to the sun.

This series was started 10 months ago in my We Write Poetry™ Wordshop™ Group forum on LinkedIn. I am going to post it and archive it here. This is the first one. Many more will follow.

Please enjoy and discuss and add your thoughts and some poems of your own in the comments below.

Fairy Glen Conwy River Gorge, North Wales, UK
Fairy Glen Conwy River Gorge North Wales

3 Comments

  1. April 1, 2018 at 12:12 am

    […] Who is the “I” refered to in a poem? Frequently (but by no means always) the “I” in question is the poet him/herself. We should not, however make the mistake of assuming that the “I” in a given poem does, necessarily refer to the person who has penned the poem. This issue receives attention here, https://wewritepoetryforum.wordpress.com/2018/03/31/poetic-tidbit-1-personas/. […]

  2. March 31, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Thank you for this interesting post.

    In my poem “Raining”, which is reproduced below, the “I” does, in fact refer to the poet (I.E. myself). The “my friend” refered to in the poem is anyone who happens to read “Raining”:

    “I awoke to the rain
    drumming on my window pane.
    Opening my lattice I let it in
    the purifying water that washes away sin.
    The hypnotic sound
    of rain falling all around.
    All my life I have listened to the rain.
    The same drumming
    of water coming
    from the sky
    falling on you and I.
    The rain has no end
    But you and I my friend
    May listen for a while
    Smile
    then pass on by”.

    Kind regards, Kevin

    • March 31, 2018 at 10:29 pm

      “falling on you and I” refers to the poet and anyone reading his (my) poem. Apologies I ought to have made that clear in my initial comment.


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