Lee Passarella


I recall watching a TV interview with a well-known Atlanta performance poet. During the interview, she said something to the effect that she hasn't been able to master the persona poem yet but is working on it. So apparently, writing in the voice of another person is hard for many poets. And while I naturally gravitate to the form, it's hard for me. One of my mentors took me to task once for a persona poem I had written in the voice of a certain long-dead composer, telling me it didn't work and didn't even sound like the composer. How she could have been sure of that, I don't know. The poem was in English, but the composer would have spoken mostly in German in his lifetime, except for an occasional foray into French and, rarely, English. But I got her point. The hardest problem in a persona poem, whether the persona is famous or not, is to catch the voice of the other without sounding preachy or pedantic. Oftentimes, that's the chief downfall: since the persona poem features someone speaking directly to the reader, there is a tendency to have him or her mouth sentiments that the poet would feel embarrassed voicing. But the message, if there is one, should be delivered almost after the fact because the chief aim is to reproduce the speech and thought patterns of the speaker. So authenticity and sincerity are the greatest aids and the biggest hurdles in writing the persona poem.




Joe and PW

Genesis 39 explained by one of my world lit students


I don’t know if this story’ll make sense to you, but here goes anyway. First of all, Potiphar’s wife—we’ll call her PW, cause the Bible isn’t specific—is not some old witch. No, she’s a fine-looking woman, a little old for Joe sure, but fine. It isn’t like, man, take your hands off me, old bitch! I’m outta here! And besides, it isn’t like Joe’s got his pick of babes, either. At least the Bible doesn’t mention any babes except PW, so I’m guessing Potiphar’s dump is out there in the middle of nowhere. Which most of Egypt was back then. And Joe’s not gay, you know, and PW’s got her damn motor running…. But, it’s not like Joe’s afraid of what’s going to happen if his boss finds out. I mean, it’s not like If her hubby catches us, I’m dead meat! No. It’s more like I owe this guy something, don’t I? He writes the checks, you know, and here I am cheatin’ on his ass with his old lady! I mean, no way does Joe want Potiphar to get bent out of shape (and as things turn out, Joe ends up in the slam anyway, cause the bitch does a number on him) but that’s not why he clears out of Potiphar’s bareass naked…. Ah, man, I told you this shit don’t make sense. Just forget it.


Lee_Passarella_color.jpgLee Passarella acts as senior literary editor for Atlanta Review magazine and as editor-in-chief for the new literary journal FutureCycle Poetry. His poetry has appeared in Chelsea, Cream City Review, Louisville Review, The Formalist, Antietam Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Literary Review, Edge City Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, Snake Nation Review, Umbrella, Slant, Cortland Review, and many other periodicals and ezines. Recent publications include ShatterColors and Shit Creek Review.

Swallowed up in Victory, Passarella's long narrative poem based on the American Civil War, was published by White Mane Books in 2002. His poetry collection The Geometry of Loneliness (David Robert Books) appeared in 2006. A poetry chapbook entitled Sight-Reading Schumann was published by Pudding House Publications in summer of 2007.