Students in my online, 24PearlStreet “Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure and Revision” course explored erasure as a political and social justice act and then completed “Dear ,” an erasive poetry exercise, last week after reading the following assignments:
In “Barbie Girl,” students read “Barbie Chang’s Tears” by Victoria Change from their assigned October 2016 issue of Poetry and then take a look at “The Last Mojave Indian Barbie” by Natalie Diaz. In doing so, they consider the ways in which poetry can challenge problematic representations in popular culture. Additionally, they are provided with the opportunity to revise a cultural icon through their own persona poem in order toaccurately reflect their own individualized experiences.
In “In Medias Res,” students write and re-write a scene in the three different points of view from a YouTube video of a man texting and running into a wild bear. They likewise create a character profile for their point of view character to navigate Anne Lamott’s suggestion of an “emotional acre.” In doing so, they negotiate the scope, immediacy, and language of each point of view, and consider how “in the middle of things” each point of view feels.
My third manuscript, previously called Bluff, has a new title: Hollow Point. At 74 pages, it’s all ready except for a few revisions and the addition of some more poems in the person of Othello‘s Emilia.
On & off for several years, I tried to write a series of poems that addressed or took on the persona of the character Emilia in Othello, my namesake. A few poems were informed by her story, but none took on her voice head on. I was paralyzed by the fear that I couldn’t write in the voice of a character previously voiced by Shakespeare—how could I not be?
With a prompt given by Mary Szybist at The Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, however, I was able to try out Emilia’s voice again, and now I’ve embarked on the series, tentatively titled “Alternate Endings,” which allows Emilia free range to consider other fates, to address her husband & killer Iago, to reveal more about her relationship with Desdemona, to reckon with her literal role in the play & the stage’s constraints, & to anachronistically comment upon contemporary events. I see this sequence as a foundational pillar in the third manuscript, which also deals with the reconstruction of the body & memory.
As I continue to work on these poems, I need some good persona & sequence lodestars to guide me. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Mary’s Incarnadine & Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination the last couple of weeks. But is there anything else I should pick up & read to guide me through this project? I’m particularly interested in those sequences that reckon with historical, mythic, or literary figures through persona or apostrophes. Thanks so much for your help, friends.
Jot down some notes about a situation in which you found yourself in direct opposition with someone else. Perhaps it’s as extreme as the violent racism in Smith’s poem or as routine as having the same seat number assignment as another person on a flight. The best situation is one in which the conflict was never or not easily resolved. (2–5 min.)
Describe the diction that person uses and provide some examples. (1–2 min.)
Now freewrite in the voice of that person as if he or she is addressing you. What would they say? How would they defend themselves against complaints about their actions toward you. (5–7 min.)
Share your efforts. Did the exercise of writing in their voices change your opinions of your adversaries? What does this reveal about poetry’s ability to engage in empathy? Do your opinions carry into your rendering of their voice?
Ask that the students bring in one of their favorite poems. (My students brought in “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass, “Fever 103°” by Sylvia Plath, and “[Carrion Comfort]” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.) Have each student read the selection to the class and lead a discussion on the poem’s features, movement, and form.
Consider some of the ways one can write imitations:
Imitate all or many of the strategies of that specific poem.
Imitate general features of the poet’s style.
Write a poem in the persona of the poet. (His/her general voice, not just the voice on the page.)
Do a loose imitation using one element of the original poem. This could even include response poems, poems with lines of that poet, etcetera.
Then have them do the following exercise:
Write an imitation of the poem you brought in. (15 min.)
Write an imitation of one of the other poems. (15 min.)
Discuss. What imitation strategy did you choose? Why? Did you find yourself more able to imitate your selection or another’s? Why? Which imitation was hardest? Can you more easily discern some of your own fundamental orientation to language, ticks, go-to strategies, etcetera through the imitation process?
Class: Writing Out of the Ordinary Genre: Creative nonfiction Readings: A packet of persona poems and dramatic monologues Time: 10 minutes
1. Pick a celebrity, sports star, cartoon or comic book character, product mascot (ex. Count Chocula, the Geico gecko, etc.) or newsworthy individual (Octomom, Charles Manson, etc.).
2. Create a mundane problem for that character or person. (Kobe Bryant can’t open a jelly jar. Elvis Presley can’t fit into his old slacks. Speedy Gonzalez gets stuck in a mouse trap.)
3. Free write for ten minutes in the voice of that character as they’re attempting to resolve the problem. What concerns them? Are they worried about their public image? How does this problem relate to bigger problems for them? What sorts of language do they use? Are they thinking about the problem at hand or something else? Where are they at? More specific questions: What are they wearing? What kind of jelly is Kobe Bryant trying to get into? Strawberry or grape? Who set the trap for Speedy? Has Elvis tried dieting? (Hint: You don’t have to answer these specific questions, but be sure to take leaps like this with your own characters.)