Masks, Personas, and The Literal I


In this writing workshop, we will read books by poets who utilize masks and personas to explore depths of honesty, thought, and feeling that might otherwise be off-limits. We will consider the different ways in which a character may be created and inhabited via syntax, diction, emotional crescendos and deflations, associative leaps, metaphors, and tonal shifts. We will also read books by poets who collapse the space between poetic speaker and author, employing a more literal I. We will strive to come to a richer understanding of the possibilities of the first-person. Students will be asked to create their own mask, a constructed first-person to breathe and speak through, and also to write poems in the mind/throat/heart of a more literal I. The reading class will be roughly a book of poetry a week, including John Berryman’s Henry, Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito, and the expansive I in Whitman’s Song of Myself. There will be a number of short response essays to the reading. Students will be expected to write and rewrite with passion and vigor, turning in a new first draft each week and a chapbook of 12-20 poems. Class time will be split evenly between discussing outside reading and student work. This class will be good for both workshop veterans and those harboring an urge to give poetry a try.