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Persona or Mask


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Persona or Mask

Persona or Mask is a narrative or story told through the voice of a fictional character created by the author. The word persona is from Latin meaning a mask made of clay or bark worn by actors. (This loose connection to the Latin gave me a forum under which to include this article.) Persona  has evolved to be the "person" who speaks in a poem or work of fiction.  That person's character can be developed not only through the words he or she speaks but also from the events surrounding the character.  The device is an effective way to tell a story because the story unfolds through the first person, a fictional eye witness. 

In reality a poet takes on a persona with each poem.   We write of imaginary experiences, relationships, hardships, successes as if we were there. 

The voice should take on the accent or dialect of the character, use phrasing or language of the time and region.  The character need not be a person, it could be an inanimate object such as a tomb speaking or an animal, a dog speaking, etc

The poem often used as an example of persona is Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.   Who is this person speaking? He tells us much, he knows the owner of the woods, he stops to enjoy, he cares about his horse, he has promises to keep.  Then he leaves us with questions. why would he care if the owner saw him,  what is their relationship,  what are these promises that moves him on?   The poem is the simple story of a journey and a moment along the way.   A less subtle example of Persona is Langston Hughes,  Mother to Son.

And here is the story of Zimbabwe's plight under the presidency of Robert Mugabe, told through the voice of a Zimbabwe child.

Zimbabwe Child

Papa cross the Limpopo
not fear crocodile
say, get work
gone whole year.
No letter for Mama
no medicine.

Miriam, she eight
sweep floor, clean baby
wipe Mama’s brow
spoon mankata broth.
No school for Miriam
no medicine.

Beggar bowl for maize
I dig in dirt
find siboyani root
to feed scorpion in belly.
No maize for make nsimi
no medicine.

Baby sick like Mama
before she go to clinic
not come home
baby cry dry tears
No milk for baby
no medicine.

No one see
no one care
throw away Zimbabwe child.
No letter, no school
no maize, no milk.
No medicine.
    ---- Judi Van Gorder   August 2011

Limpopo, crocodile infested river on the patrolled border between Zimbabwe and South Africa which is the most popular route for starving Zimbabweans looking for work, many die from the crocodiles. Others are caught and placed in refugee camps that are little more than internment camps and still others are simply turned back.

siboyani root, native African plant, the root is dug up and must be boiled 5 hours before it can be mashed in the broth.

mankata root, native African plant, the root is found in swampy areas.

nsimi is a kind of dumpling or bread that is made from cornmeal with oil and water then rolled into balls and eaten dipped into vegetable broth.


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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