The Masked Writer
We’ve all daydreamed about living an entirely different life at some point in time. A deep sea diver for a day. A movie star for a night. Someone 10 years younger or 5 years older in the year 1650 or 2050. By analyzing and writing persona poems, we are indulging in the part of us that longs to experience things outside of our own reality. In a persona poem, the writer can be anyone, real or imagined, exploring the world through an unfamiliar lens. These poems require a keen eye for detail and a high level of compassion in order to create a snapshot that depicts what another person might be thinking or feeling. The first section of resources focuses on developing analytical skills through exemplary texts and performances. The resources in the sections that follow guide students through the process of brainstorming and devising their own persona poems.
Hook your students by introducing them to one or all of the contemporary poets performing their work, each one, a nod to a character or person from pop culture. In the description field of each video, there are a series of comprehension questions to help your students get to the heart of the poem.
“My Name is Karl” | Seattle Poetry Slam
Detroit’s David Blair reads a touching poem about visibility and the meaning of true friendship in the voice of Karl from The Simpson. The poetry community continues to mourn Blair’s 2011 passing so we’re honored to continue sharing his work with future generations.
“Ring Around the Rosie” | SpeakEasyNYC
Rhode Island’s Franny Choi gives us a glimpse into the secret inner life of Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons.
Noel Quiñones “Abuela Disciplines Dominican Drake” | Write About Now Poetry
New York’s Noel Quiñones steps into a completely imagined role as rapper Drake’s grandma. Considering that Drake isn’t Dominican, this is a great example of what happens when poets free themselves from the constraints of reality to tell stories of fictitious circumstances while retaining some of their own identity. There is a link to a page with translations at the bottom of the description field. Please note, this poem contains some profanity.
This worksheet provides a description of what a persona poem is and what purpose it serves while offering examples of similar ways in which artists and writers assume other identities. Then students will go on to read a persona poem by Carol Anne Duffy, identifying key details in the text that can help them determine who the speaker is in the poem.
If you’d like a more detailed breakdown of Duffy’s poem, check out this annotated text from Genius.com.
Give students a second opportunity to take a deep dive into a persona poem. This time, they’ll hear from the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith, in the voice of a Flores Island “hobbit”. This lesson plan not only walks students through an analysis of the text but provides some insight into the process of writing a persona poem. Independent research is often an integral part of mining for the details that will be included in a persona poem. In this case, students look at some non-fiction resources to learn about the real-life inspiration for the poem.
Now that students have been exposed to a few examples of this style of poetry, they can begin the prewriting process. This worksheet, taken in part from the Girls Write Now persona workshop packet, is a really creative and fun way to get them brainstorming ideas for their own persona poem about a real person or a fictional character that already exists. By responding to prompts, they’ll come up with a list of people that they find interesting and once they’re able to narrow that down, the second series of prompts will help them uncover the essence of that person by responding to prompts that require them to interpret whatever biographical information to gain a more abstract understanding of the character they are trying to create.
Once students have chosen a voice for their poems and done all the necessary research, they’re ready to write their own persona poem. This handout provides 6 writing prompts to choose from and outlines what is expected of them for a first draft poem.
Interested in sharing more work that features this poetic technique? Here are some classroom friendly poems from a few phenomenal contemporary writers. They are listed from least complex to most complex.
The Cat’s Song” by Marge Piercy | Poetry Foundation
“The Newer Colossus” by Karen Finneyfrock | Split This Rock
“The Motorcyclists” by James Tate | Poetry Foundation
If you’re a social studies teacher and you’ve made it all the way to the end of this playlist, we didn’t forget about you! Poetry isn’t just for English class and this activity shows you how you can engage your students in writing persona poems in the voices of historical figures.
Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.
Common Core ELA Standards
7.W.3.a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
8.W.3.a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.