4 Persona Poems That Will Teach You to Explore Different Perspectives
Poetry can often be a deeply confessional and personal art form. Most poets draw inspiration from their own experiences, memories, and relationships. Though this makes for a strong poetic foundation, occasionally writing from a different perspective may lead to exploring new themes, experimenting with word choice, and even overcoming writer’s block.
Persona poetry, defined by the Academy of American Poets as “poetry in which the poet speaks through an assumed voice . . . also known as a dramatic monologue,” gives writers the unique and creative opportunity to become someone else and share their story. These four poets showcase this innovative technique.
1. “Love Song of the Demogorgon” by Jenny Molberg
Inspiration for a persona poem can come from anywhere. National Endowment for the Arts recipient Jenny Molberg got the idea for the poem “Love Song of the Demogorgon” while watching the TV show Stranger Things. From there, she dug deeper, evoking the demogorgon’s ties to Greek mythology and classic literature.
In adapting the demogorgon’s voice, Molberg considers the role of duality. After the demogorgon reveals “I resemble nothing,” they follow up with distinct and startling imagery:
“Face like a starfish. / Fingers like rodents in flight. My mind / made of two minds, I change. / Two-hearted ruler of a twofold world.”
2. “Pig Song” by Margaret Atwood
In “Pig Song,” Margaret Atwood—best known as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale—takes on an unexpected perspective, that of the titular pig. In the poem, the pig addresses the human that owns them, delving into themes like the relationship between humans and animals, consumption, and the nature of violence.
“I have the sky, which is only half / caged, I have my weed corners, / I keep myself busy, singing / my song of roots and noses, / my song of dung,” Atwood writes, recounting a day in the life of the pig. “Madame . . . I am yours. / If you feed me garbage, / I will sing a song of garbage. / This is a hymn.”
3. “Katrina” by Patricia Smith
The poem “Katrina” appears in Patricia Smith’s collection Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist that chronicles the trajectory and devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Throughout the immersive and encompassing collection, Smith regularly plays with the technique of persona, writing in the voices of nursing home residents, country singers, and even George W. Bush.
“Katrina” stands out as perhaps the book’s most impressive persona feat, as Smith epitomizes the hurricane itself. In a lesson for other writers, Smith steps into the role primarily through powerful, fast-paced word choice that helps readers feel the hurricane’s fierce movement: Katrina describes herself as “dragging,” “bulging,” and a “swirling sheet of grit.” Smith furthers this by also revealing Katrina’s motivation and a palpable sense of emotion throughout the poem.
“Scraping toward the first of you, hungering for wood, walls, / unturned skin. With shifting and frantic mouth, I loudly loved / the slow bones / of elders, fools, and widows,” Smith writes.
4. “Sun” by Hadara Bar-Nadav
In prize-winning poet Hadara Bar-Nadav’s collection The New Nudity, she writes from the worldview of many different everyday objects, including a door, a wine glass, and a fountain. Throughout the book, she explores an intriguing central question: If these objects could speak, what would they say?
“Sun” provides one answer to this thought-provoking inquiry, as it shows this life-giving figure reveling in its power and contemplating weighty, universal themes like connection and mortality. “I touch & touch / & touch, / branding the hands / of each child. A circle of unmoored fury,” Bar-Nadav declares. “Bow down / in the brilliance / of your borrowed light. / Let me ignite / your end.”
Want to learn how to better develop characters to embody in your persona poems? Check out the Read Poetry guide to character development and take on a persona poem as your next writing prompt. Like the poets featured here, you can write from the perspective of a fictional character, an animal, or an object.