Persona: (n). the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others; a role or character adopted by an author or an actor; “person” — (Spanish translation); or, in poetry, the mask that the speaker wears.
These are four definitions of the word “persona.” I’ve never thought about this word until we went over it in my Form in Poetry class. We then reached into depth about how this word applies to our everyday lives. A person can put up a front and mask their emotions. That way they are pretending everything is okay. I then start to think: what kind of persona am I showing in my poems? My blog posts? On Instagram? I once had to write a sort of erotic poem for that class, and in my poem, I made a point to say, “I’m a virgin talking about sex, how does that sound to you?” That’s one example of putting on a “mask.”
Artists tend to put on a “mask” at all times. When Demi Lovato was on Disney Channel, no one knew she was hiding an eating disorder and addiction. The same thing with Miley Cyrus — she started out on Hannah Montana as an eleven-year-old playing a fifteen-year-old, struggling with anxiety and body dysmorphia in the process. As for some of the more complex artists like, say, Lady Gaga? The world may never know why she dresses up in ridiculous costumes. Or is she just being herself? She is who she said she is at the 2011 VMAs: theatre.
And that’s just the thing: we become our passions. It’s similar to the way method actors become and understand their characters. When I write short stories, I become and embody the main character(s) to try and get inside their heads. That is called “character development.” Or, when I wrote a poem dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, I had to crawl inside the head of a transcendentalist in order to create a cohesive, thoughtful ode to him.
As functionaries in society, we’re forced to hide what we don’t want our peers to know. I’m reminded of Elsa from Frozen: “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” when she finally unmasked her power to freeze anything in her path and finally said (I know, we’re aaaalllll sick of hearing these three overhyped words) “let it go.”
As much as I’ve grown to be sick of that movie, it proves a point. How many of you remember those dark days we like to call… middle school? And this is where I’m going to be flat out honest with y’all. In seventh grade, I went from not giving a you-know-what, to caring incessantly about my appearances. It was all because of this stigma from the town I grew up in: conformity and to be “socially accepted.” Funny, I just wrote a poem about my old town and how transferring high schools and eventually colleges gave me my own voice — my own identity. When we put on these “masks,” we’re essentially locking away our own voices from these outside sources who are too stubborn to take them into consideration.
But when I think about Louise Glück’s “Wild Iris,” and she puts on the persona of a wild iris trying to push through the dirt, it’s almost a source of empathy for the poor being. Let this, alone, be an analogy: we are all wild irises, emerging through earth’s thick skin trying to survive. We have instances which we may be “reborn” and discover ourselves again. At the end of the day, we are still writing our poems in first-person — so somewhere in the midst of all that, our voices and identities are still being conveyed in our poems of life. Our words may be used in the future to be studied, and who knows? Maybe a little-redheaded girl looking at poetry for the first time will wish she knew that source of wisdom.