The word “Persona” comes from the Latin word for “mask.” To write a persona poem, then, is to wear the mask of an assumed character – to become them, to use the language they would use, to channel their emotions. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is a classic persona poem, written from the point of view of Homer’s Odysseus after he has returned home from his long voyage at sea. The speaker in the poem conveys various conflicted emotions – an appreciation for finally being home and reassuming the throne, but also an itch for adventure, and a longing for the sea. Tennyson likely utilizes the archetypal character of Odysseus as a guise to reveal his own itch for a return to youth and adventure.
Persona poetry went through a more recent revival in the 1970’s with the poet Ai’s book, Cruelty. Ai is known for writing from the point of view of characters who aren’t archetypal, but are rather underfoot and struggling. Ai writes from a more feminist standpoint (although some of her characters are male), and often touches on the gritty parts of womanhood and personhood – abortions, abuse, sex, poverty.
So, this is the prompt: write a persona poem. Pick a character – one who already exists within the realm of fiction or fairy tales, someone famous, someone that you know, or one that you develop on your own – and write from their point of view. Writing persona poetry is a great exercise for poets of all levels. For young poets who haven’t quite developed their voice, it helps you to practice writing in different voices, to keep in mind the kind of language that you’re using and determine how that language affects the poem. For more experienced writers who already have a voice and style developed, it can help you break out of your box, and give you a chance to write outside of the realm of personal experience.