Friday, May 14, 2010

Lemon Balm and Persona Poems

I love lemon balm. It smells wonderful, tastes great, and is just a fun plant to have around. It’s calming, helps with menstruation (guys and gals benefit from that one!), helps with upset stomach, and is just a general all-around good herb. I haven’t tried this recipe, though it sounds delicious. Take 20 sprigs of fresh lemon balm and pour 1 quart of boiling water over it, then add 4 tablespoons of honey, 10 whole cloves, and juice from half a lemon. Let steep ten minutes, strain, and serve. For stomach cramping or nerves that result in heart palpitations, mix dried lemon balm leaves, like a teaspoon to 6-8 leaves, with a cup of boiling water, steep covered for ten minutes, and strain.

So how to grow this wonderful her. It’s another member of the mint family, two feet tall, and makes flowers late in the summer that you can deadhead if you like. It basically grows anywhere and under any conditions and may become a noxious weed if left to its own devices. So basically plant and grow. It likes sun, but is shade-tolerant also, especially in dry climates. It prefers a well-drained clay soil or a sandy loam with a consistently moist soil, so water regularly, but don’t overwater, so the soil doesn’t dry out between waterings. It can be grown easily indoors or in containers.

For more information on the uses and history of lemon balm, try It’s got a list of a ton of resources too. As with all herbs, take care to make sure there are no reports of drug interactions. For example, women on the pill should not take St. Johns Wort as it may interfere with the effectiveness of birth control. I’m not an expert so please do your own research specific to your unique and individual needs.

On to poetry. While on vacation, I spent a lot of time with Ai, namely her book titled “Vice.” It’s an anthology of her work from previous books. Lovely, brutal stuff. Ai uses persona quite a bit in her work and to hauntingly lovely outcomes. So how do we use persona effectively in poetry?

I have no freaking clue.

While doing the Portable MFA, one of the assignments was to write persona poems, like Ai, but I’m finding it desperately difficult. So here I am trying to muddle my way through it. has some insights into persona poems.

“A persona poem is a poem written in the first person, in which a writer imagines she is an animal, an object, a famous person - anyone she is not.”

Sounds simple enough. Persona comes from the Greek word for mask, meaning that in a poem like this, the author “dons a mask and writes from another person's point of view.” Some questions this website says to ask are:

* What is its world like?
* What might it see?
* What might it hear?
* What might it do? (Or a person do to it?)
* What does it know?
* What might it feel or think?

Other considerations are sense of place, mining the physical world for sensory aspects to work as a backdrop for the poem, and diction since the way people talk says volumes about who they are, where they come from, education and class, all that stuff and can also give the poem authenticity by showing that you know how a person like this talks, thinks, moves, etc. Lastly, choose a moment when something is happening, something important. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it does need to be a moment of change. That’s what a climax is after all, a moment when a character comes away from something critically changed.

And here’s a place to start your persona poem, with the line, “I remember.”