I just finished reading a collection of interviews with the singer/songwriter Will Oldham in which he addresses a number of questions about his musical “interface,” Bonnie “Prince” Billy. He articulates the value of this device in terms of creative imagination and freedom in relation to the first person “I” account, which must necessarily be reinvented, manipulated, expanded.
Many writers and artists seem, in some way, to have explored personae—from Lady Gagaʼs video staging of her fall and resurrection in “Paparazi” to the volume of work Fernando Pessoaʼs produced under a dozen “heteronyms,” or fictional biographies with points of view.
Certainly conjuring a persona is not the only way to access new material or to change oneʼs relationship to what she has already created, but it is one means. That said, the lesson of the week and accompanying homework is to feed your persona! Here are ten options for the assignment in ascending order of potential:
10) Generate an audience who is not you but who you might try distinctly to reach. Write a letter/essay/poem to someone you either know directly or know of well enough to address his/her very particular aesthetic.
9) List four of your schticks or habits or m.o.ʼs. What devices do you rely on to make your work sing to or dismantle or control the world around it? Donʼt decide whether theyʼre good or bad, just list them, recognizing that they might have been otherwise.
8) Go to a gallery or museum and find a portrait you are curious about. Ask it a question. Write it and the answer you imagine s/he/it might give.
7) Take something to Goodwill/Salvation Army. Imagine the person who will buy this can-opener or receive this bag of books. No writing required.
6) Cook something youʼve never made before. It can be southern style green beans or Tikil Gomen. While youʼre making it and eating, feel like the kind of person who cooks this way all the time. Again, no need to write, just experience.
5) Ask two people to name and describe one person who most shaped who they are today. Write a sentence or two using their voice, as clearly as you can imagine it.
4) Take a mental snapshot of two or three of the forks in your road. Write a poem/paragraph/story from the perspective of someone who went down a different one.
3) Itʼs almost Halloween. Don a character other people may not recognize immediately. Make Silly Putty thumbs and go as Sissy Hankshaw in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Have your girlfriend give you a hickey and go as a Kama Sutra lover. Wear a suit and a birdʼs nest crown of stereo speaker wire and go as the Third Law of Thermodynamics (order to chaos).
2) Give away a piece of writing that you havenʼt published to a writer friend with no obligation to use any part of it, but with the option to. Ask them to offer the same to you.
1) Write a letter to your persona about how you are a persona, too.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks, Farm and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man. She won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest for The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which is forthcoming.