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Volume 3 | Issue 1 | September 2008 | 

Persona Poems
Introduction and interviews by : Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi

Malaika King Albrecht

Persona poem freed me up to say things I might not otherwise have said

I enjoy persona poems and have read quite a few that I find remarkably compelling. I have written a few. They freed me up to say things I might not otherwise have said. One is called the Magician's Assistant. It won first place in Poetry Southeast's contest .Here you may read it:

The Magician’s Assistant

I am scarf after scarf
in his nothing-up-my-sleeves trick.
I am the behind-the-ears quarter,
the rabbit in his hat
and the wand that never fails.

I am his black box
disappearing and reappearing
who enters me. I am the handcuffs
and blindfold that he escapes.

I am the chosen card
memorized and ripped apart,
suddenly whole again in his hands.
I am levitating, doves flying
from my rib cage
that he sawed so cleanly.

I am the hush that precedes
the good trick, then applause. I am
his cut cord, restored.
I am the final word-
his abracadabra of finales.

Historical persona poems are fascinating too. Then there is Jeanine Hall Gailey's book Becoming the Villainess that has quite a few persona poems, like comic book characters and female superheroes. I like her work a lot and believe that book to be a good example of successful persona poems.
Some of the concerns regarding persona poems that I've heard on Wompo seem to center on authenticity and what might be called deception. The idea being that one should pass oneself off as someone you are not. One specific poet discussed had written a poem as a cancer survivor but was not herself a cancer survivor. Where the line was crossed was that she was in an anthology of cancer survivor. I would err on the side of caution in regards to writing from certain personas. I do, however, think a persona poem is judged on its own merit like any poem. Whether the poem rings true or not has little to do with whether or not the poet actually experienced what is written about. This issue of voice is not as much a problem with persona poems of fictional characters like Jeanine's work. Nor does the problem seem as challenging in the case of historical persons from long ago. A persona poem from a current person's point of view would inherently face different challenges.
Perhaps the persona poem could be divided into subgroups, which could be examined separately. Such as:
1.) Historical persona poems 2.) fictional character persona poems 3.) alter ego persona poems (this is probably where my work fits in. The Magician's assistant tapped into what I would call my alter-ego. What Jung calls the shadow self, so me but not me) 4.) Contemporary famous person persona poems and 5.) "walking in another's shoes" persona poems (not the best term here. Let me think about this one.) These poems would be the persona poems that allow the poet to write from another's experience. This would probably be the category that has the bigger potential for exploitation here.

Malaika King Albrecht’s poems have been or are forthcoming in many literary magazines and anthologies She has taught creative writing to sexual abuse/assault survivors and to addicts and alcoholics in therapy groups and also is a volunteer poet in local schools. Her manuscript “Never the Same River” was a semi-finalist in the Seventh Annual Elixir Press Poetry Awards, and her poem “Magician’s Assistant” recently won the Poetry Southeast Poetry Contest. “The Artist and the Doctor” was published in Kakalak 2007: Anthology of Carolina Poets. “Swift Water” appeared in Kakalak 2006. “Sounds after the Howl” appeared in The Pedestal Magazine and won first place in its 2007 Readers’ Award.









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