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Volume 3 | Issue 1 | September 2008 | 

Persona Poems
Introduction and interviews by : Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi

Adam Penna

When I write in a strange voice, I become more myself.

I frequently attempt poems in the voice of another personality. These are a useful way of practicing what John Keats called Negative Capability, which he defined as the ability to be in mysteries, uncertainties and doubts without irritably reaching after fact and reason. Keats claimed that all poets had to possess this Negative Capability, and I think he is right. If poetry is to help us at all, it must help us be more comfortable or, rather, less irritable, when we are in uncertainty. After all, who isn't in uncertainty? Nothing but what has happened already is certain, and there are times when I am even uncertain of that. An observant person notices, I think, that the greatest illusion is that things will certainly go a certain way. Today, I assume that I will rise up from my chair, take up my car keys, leave my house and drive to work. I assume this because it has happened each of the days that preceded this one. But it would take very little, a letter, a message, a phone call, a surprise visit from my brother or an old friend, to turn my assumptions upside down. If I want to greet this old friend with love, I must lose my assumption of how the day ought to have gone. Poetry, then, is the practice of welcoming these old friends, and new ones, too, with arms wide. A persona poem forces our faces to fit a strange mask and our features, then, become more malleable, more vivid and alive. I find, too, that instead of becoming less myself, when I write in a strange voice, I become more myself. Whitman says he is large, he contains multitudes. The end of every poetic career might end with such a revelation.

Here is a poem written in the voice of St. Therese of Lisieux. It is the first of a longer sequence of poems based on the saint's last conversations with her sister. The sequence I call "The Little Flower."

It takes so little to restore
an empty well. Throw a stone,
make a wish, close your eyes
and listen. That is your name!
When God calls you,
it should be a surprise, and I suspect
there is a moment, when everything
you hold to be the truth rushes away.
That is the last gift we get on earth.
Or it is the first of heaven? Yes.
Even the ascetic isn’t expert enough,
who practices silence and learns to be alone.

Adam Penna's poems have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies. He teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College and holds an MFA from Southampton College. He lives in East Moriches, NY with his wife. Two collections are forthcoming from Finishing Line Press and S4N Books. He is the editor of Best Poem, an online journal publishing, not necessarily every day, a poet's best poem.









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