22 Feb Poetry Panel | Shadow Selves: Writing the Persona Poem
Persona, from the Latin for “mask,” is a character the poet becomes in order to speak in a poem.
Join us for a conversation between two poets who have mastered this technique.
In Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, a finalist for the National Book Award, poems issue from the throat of an imaginary African American man invented by a real woman (Susan Smith), who claimed he had kidnapped her children, when in fact she had drowned them.
And in Marie Howe’s latest collection Magdalene, poems emanate from a contemporary, composite Mary Magdalene, who herself takes on the roles of mother, lover, wife, and daughter.
What circumstances lead poets to choose to write in the voice(s) of others? What permissions must poets grant themselves in order to believe they can speak accurately to another person’s truth, and/or be the voice of someone or thing who represents a collective consciousness or belief system? How much overlap is there between the poet’s identity and the speaker’s? Where does empathy end and appropriation begin?
Hear these two major contemporary poets respond to these questions and read selected works from their collections.
Poet/Playwright/Songwriter Cornelius Eady was born in Rochester, NY in 1954, and is the author of several poetry collections: Kartunes; Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize; The Gathering of My Name, nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; You Don’t Miss Your Water; The Autobiography of a Jukebox; Brutal Imagination, Hardheaded Weather (Putnam, 2008), and the anthologies Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep, In Search of Color Everywhere, and The Vintage Anthology of African American Poetry, (1750-2000). He wrote the libretto to Diedra Murray’s opera Running Man, which was short listed for the Pulitzer Prize in Theatre, and his verse play Brutal Imagination won the Oppenheimer Prize for the best first play from an American Playwright in 2001. He was awarded tenure at SUNY Stony Brook in 1995, and holds a PhD in the Arts (Hon) from the University of Rochester (2010). His awards include Fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Traveling Scholarship, and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award. He is co-founder of the Cave Canem Foundation, and was, before returning to Stony Brook, The Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing and Professor in English and Theater at The University of Missouri-Columbia.
Marie Howe is the author of four volumes of poetry: Magdalene: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2017); The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others.
Lissa Kiernan is the founder of the Poetry Barn, a literary center based in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her first book of poetry, Two Faint Lines in the Violet (2014) was a finalist for the INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award and the Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book by an Independent Press. Her first book of prose, Glass Needles & Goose Quills (2017), praised by Nicole Cooley “a brilliant book of serving witness to the environmental catastrophes of our times,” is a long-form braided essay. She received her MFA in creative writing at Stonecoast and holds an MA from The New School. She and her husband Chris herd cats in West Hurley, New York.
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