Artist Frida Kahlo focused much of her art on the self portrait. As Kahlo herself said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Her self portraits were often out of the ordinary – Kahlo herself was always an eclectic representation of femininity. But, for example, one of her more famous portraits, “The Little Deer” is of her head painted on the body of a deer riddled with arrows.
So, here is your prompt: write a poem that portrays the self. YOUR self. Borrow from Frida and make your self portrait out of the ordinary, surreal, beautiful, weird. Put flowers in your hair, or paste your head onto the body of an animal. Please share your results!
One of the prompts my 400 level poetry teacher gave my class while I was attending the U of A, was to “steal” the title of a poem. We were reading “The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry,” and she asked us all to find a poem there that we found interesting, and borrow its contents: not only the title but themes, images, language, etc.
I chose a tender poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, called Gifts of Love (if you click the above “Ecco Anthology” link, you can read this poem in the preview!),and used that to jump into my own poem of the same title. What I ended up with was my own poem about “gifts” of love – however, where Yehuda talks of adorning his love in jewelry, my gifts were less literal. My poem transformed into something of a tribute to my past relationships – to failed and lost love, to the awkwardness of teenage affection.
So, this is your prompt: steal the title (and perhaps some other things, too) from another poem. It could be a poem that you connect with, or likewise a poem that you hate. Don’t be afraid to let your poem deviate from its inspiration: make the poem yours. Please post and share your results along with the original poem!
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.