Writing a Mask Poem

A mask poem (also called a Persona) is written from the point of view of an object, an animal, or a person (other than yourself). Mask poems can be long or short, serious or humorous. There are no rules as far as meter or rhyme pattern goes but its important to select an interesting subject and use your imagination to reveal the feelings of the object. Is the object lonely, joyful, afraid? Why?

Example: Serious and lengthy

Jennifer Nettles is an amazing singer and songwriter. Her song, King of the City, was inspired by a real-life immigrant window-washer who died in the 9/11 attacks. In my opinion this is the ultimate mask poem set to music:

The King of the City

My name is Jose, but they call me “The Rey”
My throne sits downtown in the air
I wash all the windows to thirty-six floors
And man, I just love it up there

My wife is the queen, and she used to clean
The hospital next to our home
Now she takes care of babies
For a nice white lady too busy for raisin’ her own

Ah-ooh, ah-ooooh, woah
Ah-ooh, ah-ooooh, woah

I used to wash dishes on Bowery and Ninth
Ran pizzas around on a bike
Yeah, I’d do what it takes, gettin’ paid half the wage
Any job the gringos don’t like

All the way up here is so quiet
Don’t believe me, boy? Oh you really should try it
I look around, ain’t it pretty?
It’s good to be king of the city

Ah-ooh, ah-ooooh, woah
Ah-ooh, ah-ooooh, woah

That day in September, I’ll always remember
Started out just like the rest
I was floor 26, when the first plane hit
And I still feel that sound in my chest

It’s true I wasn’t born here, but my heart is sworn here
To hold up your dreams with my own
That day on my perch, I made it to church
And I prayed for each soul to fly home

See, I watched them fall from that buildin’
And I wept for all of their wives and their children
I won’t forget, it’ll always get me
The saddest day to be king of the city

Ah-ooh, ah-ooooh, woah
Ah-ooh, ah-ooooh, woah

My name is Jose, they call me “The Rey”
My throne sits downtown in the air

EXAMPLE: SHORT AND humorous

As a children’s book author, I love writing poetry for kids, like this mask poem about a shorn sheep. Through this poem, the reader knows exactly how the sheep feels; it is not real happy about the give and take of the situation: 

HERE ARE THE RULES:
  1. Pick a topic and write the poem as if you were the subject using the word “I,” “me” and “my.”
  2. Try to make the identity of the speaker clear by the end of the poem. You can use the title as a hint or shout out to the object if you’d like.
  3. Decide if the poem will rhyme (or not). Anything goes!
  4. Brainstorm the feelings the subject might have. What does it hear/see/smell?
  5. Think of a slant you will use for the poem. If you are the Statue of Liberty your slant might be how happy you are to meet new friends along the shoreline or how you feel when birds perch upon your crown (ew!). Your poem should convey your feelings as if you are the subject and tell the reader who you are in a unique way. Maybe you are a mailbox on a busy city corner and you want to describe to the reader how you feel about people stuffing letters in your mouth. Who do you see every day? Perhaps you are a soldier in the military, or you are a doctor or nurse during in the ER or during the pandemic.
  6. You can use punctuation and grammar to mimic the subject. If you are a hail storm, you might use lots of exclamation points and shorter lines to convey the immediacy and turbulence of a storm… Rumble! crash! splat!  
Now It’s Your Turn

Think of an object, animal or person that might have something to say if given the chance. Be that chance, write a poem pretending to be the subject.

Feel free to leave your mask poem in the comments below (scroll way down). If you are feeling “iffy” about sharing, here’s a pep talk. And for those of you who would like to comment or share anonymously, I’ve created settings to allow you to do so. Just reply without signing into your WordPress account.

As always, thank you for popping in!

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