Playing with Form: Persona Poetry

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The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

My persona poem, “Elizabeth Cady Stanton Chews Out Her Daughter, Margaret, Who Has Decided Not to Follow in Her Mother’s Footsteps,” was published in the all-women contributors issue of the Medulla Review back in 2012. According to the Poetry Foundation, a persona poem features a dramatic character, distinguished from the poet, who is the speaker of a poem. This is one of my poems that has never found a home (yet) in any of my collections. As I read more and more history about the decades before, during, and after the Civil War, it is interesting to trace all the connections between abolitionists and suffragettes—and there were many. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s cousin was Gerrit Smith, one of the “secret six” responsible for funding John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are generally considered to be the two founding mothers of the Women’s Rights Movement inaugurated at Seneca Falls, New York. This poem won 3rd Honorable Mention in the Free Verse Category of Oregon Poetry Association Fall 2021 contest.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton Chews Out Her Daughter, Margaret, Who Has Decided Not to Follow in Her Mother’s Footsteps

You’ve got your comeuppance, girl,
and it sure as salt isn’t a croon.
Better to seek unholy ambush
in a tarpaper tabernacle on the outskirts
rather than your calling—to avoid
the out-in-skirts women who march,
crowing for our lives, for choice,
our era’s bewildering nots.
Maybe you long to silver the numinous;
I’m warning, it’s surefire Save Our Souls
for the consolation prize.
Foolish to stay at home,
sharpen, smudge, erase.
Next you know, you’ll be dumping
a vat of grapes down your gullet—
trust me, it only percolates more thirst.
Upholstery never holsters,
a still-life never pistols to whip,
to buffer Seneca Falls, our suffragette city
from the sulfur strike of a match.
You’ve played at war, hopscotch,
how many steps before the Queen.
All gone now, suffering those little children,
beyond the over-accrete of your adolescent life.
Dust motes, a spider web cabling the slate:
It slips, you can’t hold it, bottle or own.
And one day you’ll find yourself wanting,
a gasp invading your gut, and oh the paints,
how they’ll lead you to sigh, sigh, regret,
as if color could offer expiation.
You must change your life,
musty girl with the canvas blanks,
every measure of brush with its sabled tip.
Sketching, scraping as the rest of us straggle
past your watercolor curbside blooms.
Outside, we are resurrections of relevance—
while your easel spills and grafts
emotion, colors that blend
your palette beyond.
Art is but trickery,
the spinster mooning
for a savior to appear,
like a miracle or lightning.
And fickle as many
a fallen star.

Nancy Flynn
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