Sunday, November 9, 2008

Taking on a Persona: The Nature Narrative


As Tribune-Review staff writer, Tony LaRussa, stated in class last Friday, any type of writing demands that we tell a story. Such a philosophy requires each of us, as writers, to take on a unique perspective, to gather details, facts, or other bits of evidence that help us to develop and sharpen the lens through which we view the world, a piece of literature, a specific platform for debate, or another object or person. It is one thing to report; it is another to take on the role of story teller, of taking details to build a narrative that relays a unique message to a specific audience. LaRussa explained to us that our task as writers is to delve the surface, to “forget yourself”, and essentially—as Welty suggested—put on the lens of distant observer.

One way to do this is to assume a persona, that is, a voice or character representing someone or something who/that is other than oneself. It is a way, as LaRussa says, to “forget yourself”. That said, I call to mind Sufjan Stevens, whose songs take on the nature of a persona poem, giving us a good sense of what story-telling is all about: keen observation, an eye for subtle detail, and an understanding of what is hidden below the surface.

To be more explicit, a persona poem is a poem written in the first person, in which a writer imagines he is an animal, an object, a famous person - anyone he is not (

The Greek word "persona" means mask. In dramatic poems that's exactly what the writer does, he or she dons a mask and writes from another person's point of view. Even in poems which use "I" as a narrator, writers often represent another person's thoughts or feelings. Persona poems allow you to stretch your style and allow you to attribute emotions and feelings from a less vulnerable perspective. Remember that the narrator guides your reader through the poem.

Questions to ask yourself when writing a persona poem

What is its world like?
What might it see?
What might it hear?
What might it do? (Or a person do to it?)
What does it know?
What might it feel or think?

Closely entwined with the speaker of a poem is the poem's sense of place. The physical world with its sights, smells, and sounds should be more than a backdrop for your poetry. It should be specific, detailed, and central to the thrust of your poem. Your persona character must be shaped by the physical reality and culture of a specific place. Yeats said that a poet's words have "to be wedded to the natural figures of his or her native landscape."

Also, diction (the choice of words, the way words are strung together) becomes a vital element in persona poems. Make sure that your language is language that your character would have used, or at least will appear authentic to the reader. In other words don't write a dramatic monologue about Queen Elizabeth and intersperse slang by Madonna.

Remember to choose if possible, a critical moment in the historical figure's life. Also, use details: clothing, fashion, and objects of the time period.

Here's a simple example. These are the mummy's words from "The Mummy's Smile" by Shelby K. Irons:

Blessed Amon-Ra!
I still remember the sun on my bones.

I ate pomegranates and barley cakes.
I wore a necklace of purple stones.
And sometimes I saw a crocodileSlither silently into the Nile.

Blessed Osiris!
Now I only feel cold light beneath the glass.
Now I eat the words of children passing by.
Now I wear the decay of time preserved.
And sometimes I see two lovers
embracebehind the column next to the E X I T sign.

The first stanza focuses on sensory impressions, and all the details accurately describe things this mummy might have actually experienced when she was alive.

The above information, taken from, explains the general construction of a persona poem. As discussed in class, Sufjan Stevens does well to fulfill such requirements.


That said, I would like you to do the following for individual presentations that will begin on Tuesday, November 18, 2008:

1. Find a music artist or poet who you enjoy that flexes the style of a persona poem in his or her catalogue of music or poetry.

2. Write a feature on that particular artist in which you review either a series of songs, poems, or an album or book of poetry—a la pitchforkmedia. The review should be at least five paragraphs in length and will require you to give a bit of personal/professional history of the artist as well as both description and interpretation of at least three of his or her songs or poems that take on the nature of a persona piece. Again, refer to or the album reviews that I gave you in the Stevens fun pack to understand and imitate the format of a review.

(25 pts)

3. Lastly, write an at least three stanza persona poem of five lines per stanza in which you take on the perspective of someone or something else. Include a moment of grace, or insight/revelation, which should be part of the concluding verse of the poem.

(15 pts)

4. You will have to present both your review as well as your persona poem in class starting Tuesday, November 18, 2008. I will collect all written materials via the blog or by hard copy on said day. We will present in alphabetical order.

(5 pts)

Total: 45 pts


Chris said...

Chris Galiardi
Bro Robert Peach
Eng 165/01
November 20, 2008

5th Gear

Most of you probably know Brad Paisley as a country music star; some may know him because he hosted the CMA’s last week; or maybe some of you do not know him at all. Either way you can all appreciate him for being a great musician. However, I want you to get to know him as more than just a musician and great guitarist. He is something more than that, he is an artist.
Brad Douglas Paisley was born on October 28, 1972 in Glen Dale, West Virginia. Brad has loved country music since he was a little boy. When he was eight years old his grandfather gave him his first guitar and taught him how to play. He wrote his first song by the age of 12 and by 13 was an opening act for country singers such as The Judds in Wheeling, West Virginia. After high school he went to West Liberty State College in West Virginia for two years before being awarded a full music scholarship to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. After he graduated from Belmont he signed a songwriting contract with EMI Music Publishing. His debut as a singer was with the label Arista Nashville, with the song "Who Needs Pictures". Seven months later he had his first number one hit with "He Didn't Have to Be". Later that year he one the CMA Horizon award given to Country Music’s Best new male vocalist. He has since then released three new albums: Part II, Mud on the Tires, and Time Well Wasted. His most recent albums are 5th Gear, released in 2007, and Play, released on November fourth.
5th Gear is one of my favorite albums and is the album I have chosen to review. This album is a tribute to his journey through his life. The first song on the album, “All I Wanted Was a Car”, is the beginning of his journey in ‘5th Gear’. He moves on to other songs such as, “I’m Still a Guy”, a satire about the importance of looking good and finishes off with ,“When We Get to Heaven”, a song about what he will do when he gets to heaven. Throughout the album he talks about his experiences through life and I believe that he presents this best through my two favorite songs off the album, “Online” and “Letter to Me”. Both of these songs are persona pieces and both show different aspects of Brad’s life.
In “Letter to Me” Brad takes on the personna of his future self writing a letter to himself as a teenager. He begins the song by saying how he would prove to himself that it was him. He does this by telling him, “There’s a Skaol can and a Playboy no one else would know you hid”. Then he goes on to comfort him because he just broke up with his girlfriend and feels like it is the end of the world. After comforting him he tells him all the things he wishes he could of done differently and tells him to try to do them. Throughout the chorus he is trying to tell him to move on and not worry about his problems because as he can see “your still around to right this letter to me”. Finally he has a moment of grace when realizing that the only way to show that he is going to be alright is by telling him about all the good things happening in his future. He tells him him not to worry because he will make new friends and be married with kids and ends by firming up his confidence with, “have no fear these are nowhere near the best days of your life”. This was one of Brads more serious song. You can feel this with the slow beat and mellow guitar. By doing this Brad focuses your attention on his lyrics so that he can show you his writing skill.
In “Online” Brad takes on the personna of an outcast who is living a fictional life on his computer. This is the song I have picked to play in class. I feel that this song best portrays Brad’s lyrical genious. He is able to poke fun at himself and others and our obsession with being better than we are. He begins the song by telling us about his real life. He lives with his mom and dad works at a pizza shop and is 5’3 and overweight. These are not the most flattering of attributes. He also suggest that he is a nerd when he says, “I’m a sci-fi fanatic, a mild asthmatic and I’ve never been to second base”. However, once he goes on his myspace he is a completely different man. He has changed everything about himself; where he lives, how big he is, and even his interest. By changing these things he is able to go from a loser to the man. This is so true about all of us. In today’s world everything is about the internet. We have computers, labtops, and even phones that can take us there. Every teenager has a Facebook or Myspace and who hasn’t lied about themselves in their profile. This is a perfect image of society. In the second verse he tells us about his normal day. He comes home, his mom makes him a snack, and he goes on his computer. He also tells us he was in his high school band. No offense to any band member, but there is no better description of an outcast than a sci-fi loving, band playing, pizza delivery guy. Finally before the guitar solo he reveals his moment of grace. He admits to us that he isn’t the biggest ladies man; however, once he is online he is anything he wants to be. He isn’t a weirdo. He is just a guy that needs some confedence. Unlike in real life, when he is on his computer he feels accepted by others. And what is wrong with just trying to feel good about yoursef? After the song is done a band begins to play the music. I could not think of a better way to end this song. It brings the whole song together showing that you do not have to be a big named musician to make good music even people in the band can do a great job.
Brad Paisley might have a good voice and be good at the guitar, but I believe that his song writing skills are what separates him from other artists. He can tell a story even if its on a plastic disc and coming through ear phones. This is what makes this album special. Even when he is a loser living at home with his parents, he can still show us how cool he is even if it is ‘online’.

Toby Coleman said...

Toby Coleman
Eng. 165/Writing the Essay
Bro. Rob Peach, FSC
November 20, 2008

The Persona and Brad Paisley

A Persona Poem is a poem written in the first person, in which a writer imagines he is an animal, an object, a famous person – anyone he is not ( Persona literally means mask in Greek. While writing dramatic poems the author dons a mask and writes from another person’s point of view (Peach). While writing using a persona it allows you to see emotions and feelings from another perspective.

The artist I enjoy who flexes the style of a persona poem in his style of music is Brad Paisley. Brad Paisley is a Grammy Award winning country music singer. Throughout his career he has charted 22 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and of those 22, 12 have made it to number 1. Brad has many awards to show for his success including the most recent award at the Country Music Association Awards for “Male Vocalist of the Year.” In many of his songs he uses the concept of a persona. It is quite evident of his persona use in his hit song “Alcohol,” but a persona is also used in his songs “Online,” and “She’s Everything.”

The song you heard was “Alcohol.” “Alcohol” is the first single on his 2005 album Time Well Wasted. The single also reached #4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. In the song, Paisley personifies alcoholic beverages in general, describing the various influences that the beverages have on certain people, ultimately stating "You'll have some of the best times you'll never remember with me.” The song mentions the issues of alcohol being causing births and getting you in trouble at school, but also states the humor of alcohol helping white people dance. Another song that uses the concept of a persona is “Online.”

The other good example of a persona song is his song, “Online.” “Online” is his 2nd single from his 2007 album 5th Gear. The single is Brad's ninth overall Number One single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, as well as his fifth consecutive Number One. The music video to the song won Comedy Video of the Year at the 2007 CMA Awards. “Online” is a comedy single about the online world and the social site MySpace. In real life the character is actually a nerd but is a different goes as a different persona online saying he is rich and lives in Hollywood. The persona goes on to mention that he is “so much cooler online.”

Another song that relates to the use of persona is “She’s Everything.” Although not a typical use of a persona because he doesn’t use himself as a persona, I believe that it is still a good choice. It is not typical because he uses a girl as a persona to how much he is in love. “She’s Everything” is the 4th single in Paisley’s 2005 album Time Well Wasted. He states that the particular girl is everything he has ever wanted and is everything he needs. He says that “She’s the one he will lay his own life down for.”

All of the songs that I chose are exceptional choices for the use of personas in music. “Alcohol,” “Online,” and “She’s Everything” all show the use of persona to a certain degree with “Alcohol” being the ideal choice. “Alcohol” is the ideal choice because of the use of him actually taking up the perspective of alcohol and the problems that result from it. He enters himself into the point of view of alcohol and says “You’ll have the best times you’ll never remember with me.”


There he is in all his Glory
Though he may deserve it is it not just a story?
I believe he has done something great
After all why would we be celebrating?
The occurrence is spectacular yet puzzling.

Is this the Christ?
If so then I’m enticed
He flies on wings
This makes me intrigued
I am in awe of the happening

I believe this is a sign
But is this sign mine?
I wonder because he is here for a reason
It looks as if he is celebrating succession
But what is the reason for this intervention?

asleepnotdead said...

Chris Ranallo
Eng 165/Writing the Essay
Bro. Rob Peach FSC
November 20, 2008
Marshall Mathers (Eminem) and his Personifications

In 2000, Eminem (Marshall Mathers) was frequently vilified as a hatemonger, homophobe, and misogynist; in 2002, he was on the shortlist for Time magazine's "Man of the Year." Somewhere between hugging Elton onstage at the Grammys and sending that guy in the Pistons jersey to pick up his Oscar, Eminem was renowned by many of America's best-known cultural critics, columnist, and pundits. They either laid garlands at his feet or rhapsodized about the supposed transformation of the rapper.
“Stan” Eminem's psychotic-fan story-song is probably one of his greatest works. The complex psychological rendering of Stan, and the gloriously elastic way he has with words - that explosive, slangy poetry which manages to force seemingly natural rhymes out of phrases that bear no relation to each other - just confirms that Eminem is the finest lyricist of his generation.
In “Stan” Eminem personifies himself as an obsessed fan of Mather’s who takes his song lyrics too seriously. He begins writing fan letters to Eminem telling him how great he thinks he is and problems he’s having in his life. But because Eminem is too busy to reply right away Stan becomes angry that he hasn’t received a letter back
So his fan letters grow angrier and angrier, and soon become violent. He speaks of killing someone close to him like in the song lyrics of Eminem.
When Eminem is finally able to reply to Stan he apologizes for taking so long, and tells Stan that he need to relax and not take his lyrics so seriously, then halfway through his letter he realizes he remembers reading Stan’s name in the newspaper, in a story which involved him driving his car off a bridge killing himself, his girlfriend - who was tied up in the trunk - and his unborn child.
This song is a great example of personification in a song. Eminem takes on the role of someone who becomes too obsessed with his favorite musician, and the tragedy of what becomes of him. If you enjoyed this song you may want to hear other of Mr. Mathers personas such as “The Real Slim Shady” or “Without Me” in which he sings as “Slim Shady” his own alter-ego. I highly recommend these or any other of Marshall Mather’s powerful and provocative songs.

asleepnotdead said...

Chris Ranallo
Eng 165/Writing the Essay
Bro Rob Peach FSC
Nov 20, 2008
The Band and Their Weight
The folk rock group known as The Band became a huge influential music group during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The group consisted of four Canadians: Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko, along with one American, Levon Helm. The Band was originally called The Hawks but after spending a lot of time with the famous singer/songwriter Bob Dylan on a world tour, they became known simply as The Band. Although the Band was always more popular with music journalists and fellow musicians than with the general public, they have remained an admired and influential group. They have been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them #50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
One of their most famous songs, although not an immediate hit in the U.S. was “The Weight“. It takes the folk music motif and persona of a traveler, who in the first line arrives in Nazareth in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Once there, he encounters various residents of the town, the song being a story of these encounters.
The residents of the town include a man who cannot direct the traveler to a hotel, Carmen and the Devil walking side by side, "Crazy Chester," who offers a bed in exchange for the traveler taking his dog, and Luke who has gone out to wait for the apocalypse, leaving his young bride neglected.
“The Weight” has been featured in many films over the years such as, Hope Floats, The Big Chill, Girl Interrupted, Patch Adams, Starsky and Hutch, and my personal favorite Easy Rider. “The Weight” also landed a #41 spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. It is a personal favorite song of mine, and is one of the most chillest songs ever recorded.