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Volume 3 | Issue 1 | September 2008 | 

Persona Poems
Introduction and interviews by : Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi

Ann Fisher-Wirth

Listen to the voices within me

Though I love persona poems, I have not written many of them. In my first book of poems, Blue Window, "Dent de Broc" is a persona poem spoken by characters both seen and invisible in Brueghel's great painting "Hunters in theSnow"-though its origin in the painting would not be evident to a reader of the poem. In my unpublished ew
manuscript Gift, "Variations on the Robber Bridegroom" is a persona poem in five parts: two sections are spoken by the maiden in the Grimm fairy tale "The Robber Bridegroom, two sections by Persephone from the ancient Greek myth, and one section by a dream-laced version of my self. But in a sense every poem I write is a persona poem, for "Jeest un autre," "I is an other," as the French poet Arthur
Rimbaud has remarked. All my life I have had a double consciousness ; I have been aware of myself as both the one who lives my life and the one who beholds it. I am one form, in time, that existence takes, and the beholder in me is keenly aware of the provisional, temporary, and in a deep sense illusory nature of this identity. For this reason many of my poems are in second person, addressing a "you" who is partly the reader, sometimes partly an addressee within the poem, but always also myself.
The most intense experience I have had as a writer of something like persona poems occurred in the sequence called "The Trinket Poems," which I wrote several years ago while acting the part of Trinket Dugan, a love-starved, aging alcoholic in a little-known one-act play by Tennessee Williams called "The Mutilated." The experience of playing Trinket was so devastating and exposed so much of the longing that lies beneath my-or anyone's-public façade that I would rush home from rehearsal every day, turn on my computer, and simply listen to the voices within me as another poem flowed through me on to the screen. In these poems, it became difficult to separate my identity from Trinket's-because, of course, I was giving her life onstage, opening myself to Tennessee Williams's words and hence to her imaginary feelings and experience. The poems ended the moment the last performance of the play was over, and I knew ahead of time that they would; I knew I had to return to ordinary existence, but my grief at abandoning Trinket to her life of shadows and hunger was profound.
When I think of persona poems by other people, the splendid dramatic monologues of Robert Browning come immediately to mind, and my favorite dramatic monologue of all, T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Another favorite is Louise Gluck's book The Wild Iris, in which a human voice interweaves with poems spoken in the voices of various flowers, and of God; it is heartbreaking and very lovely. But examples of good persona poems abound. Baudelaire is right when he writes that the poet can go anywhere, become anyone, experience everything he or she can imagine and find words to express

Ann Fisher-Wirth is the author of two books of poems—Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003) and Five Terraces (Wind Publications, 2005)—and two chapbooks—The Trinket Poems (Wind, 2003) and Walking Wu Wei’s Scroll (online, Drunken Boat, 2005). She has won a Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, the Rita Dove Poetry Award, a Poetry Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, and two Poetry Fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission, and has received six Pushcart nominations and, for 2007, a Pushcart Special Mention. She teaches at the University of Mississippi .









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