Persona poems are poems that are written in a voice other than that of the author, where the author pretends to be someone else. The first one I wrote was in response to a poetry writing exercise. The next one that I recall writing ended up in “Lifelines.” Since then, I’ve created two imaginary poets as part of the science fiction novels I’m writing, and written at least 30 poems by each of them.
Writing a persona poems involves getting inside the head of the narrator (or in my case, the supposed author of the poems). It’s kind of like acting a part in a play, except that the writer is creating their own dialogue.
One thing that surprised me in creating the two poets and writing in their voices was the ease with which I slipped inside their heads. The first poet I created, Raketh Namar, namesake of the main character in my novel Relocated, which will be available from MuseItUp publishing this coming July, was supposed to live and write 5,000 years before the action in the novel, and was the author of one of the most sacred texts of my aliens, the Aleynis. I don’t usually write prayers or write about spiritual subjects, yet I found myself writing them without difficulty. This past November I created another poet, Constance Trusdatter, a very political poet who lives and writes about 100 years before the action of my current work in progress, another science fiction novel with some of the same characters as the first. I don’t usually write much about politics, yet a good number of Constance’s poems are strongly worded poems about this very subject.
Here is a persona poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, one of my favorite poets.The young girl’s voice, her longing, and her desire to be bad come through so clearly.
Notice the pattern of two unrhymed lines followed by two lines with end rhymes, and how in the final stanza both pairs of lines rhyme.
a song in the front yard
By Gwendolyn Brooks
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.
I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.
They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).
But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.