The Potent, Pliable I: Unmasking the Persona Poem

The Potent, Pliable I: Unmasking the Persona Poem


The Latin word persona refers to a traditional mask worn by actors in ancient Roman and Greek theater. Writing a persona poem means that we figuratively put on a mask, allowing us to shed our own skins and step into that of another—a real or imagined person, an animal, a plant, a season, an object. By putting on a mask, we are given license to dig deeply into other times and places, to stretch beyond our own narrow autobiographical limitations, to comment on important social or political issues from a range of vantage points, to draw on primary sources, and to experiment with narrative elements such as point of view, dialogue, and setting.

In this four-week workshop, we will examine an assortment of persona poems, including selected examples by Edgar Lee Masters, Pamela Alexander, Sylvia Plath, Louise Glück, Ai, and Patricia Smith. We will follow prompts designed to help us develop a credible “I” in poems that will free us from the inherent boundaries of our own particular experience, ethnicity, gender, geography, and generation.

Four weeks online, April 8-May 5

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Teaching Artist

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Jo Pitkin

Jo Pitkin is the author of a chapbook, The Measure, and four full-length poetry collections—Cradle of the American Circus: Poems from Somers, New York; Commonplace Invasions; Rendering; and Village: Recession (forthcoming). She is also the editor of the anthology Lost Orchard: Prose and Poetry from the Kirkland College Community. Her award-winning poems have been published in The New York Review of Books, Little Star, Nimrod International Journal, Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, Terrain, Salamander, Southern Humanities Review, Stone Canoe, A Slant of Light: Contemporary Women Writers of the Hudson Valley, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, and other journals and anthologies. Jo earned a BA in Creative Writing and Literature from Kirkland College—one of the first undergraduate creative writing programs in the United States—and an MFA in poetry from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.