At a reading/signing recently, an attendee came up to me and asked if I was a psychic or a medium. I laughed and said, “No, I don’t think so. Why?” The individual explained that she was baffled by how I came up with the sixty characters from “Flooded By” on my own. “They all seem so real.”
While that’s an amazing compliment, my only explanation I could offer her was my years treading the boards in the theater and time spent playing a plethora of characters in the entertainment industry. Becoming many different personas over many, many years, seems to have trained my brain to be open and honed my imagination skills to superhuman status. While I do say in the beginning of "Flooded By" that I feel more like a curator than a creator of the characters, I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I’m a medium or channeled these individuals.
When I develop (aka “meet”, for me) a character for a story or poem, I start by getting a feel for them - who they are, what they want to say, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed. Then I interview them, so to speak. Depending on what the genre, theme, or goal is for a piece, this may tailor the questions I ask or things the character may tell me. Then we have a conversation on paper.
One of the most difficult parts, for me, is not judging the characters--letting them be who they are without my bias or alteration. For instance, in “Flooded By” there’s a poem by Davis in the Joy chapter. Davis describes the joy he feels while hunting, killing, and field dressing a deer. I’ve been a vegetarian for over two decades and am definitely a non-hunter. In fact, I live on an 18-acre farmstead with 13-acres of raw forest and I make sure that we have the proper signage and markers so that hunters know they can’t kill anything on our land. I want it to be a safe haven for the local wildlife, not a source for a carnivorous entree.
While writing Davis' poem, I had to restrain from wanting to turn his poem into a commentary about how I feel about the slaughter of innocent animals and how I think humans can live without meat products. If hunting brings him joy, then I need to let him express that emotion through his words. Does this make him in more control of the poem than I am? Does this make me crazy for letting a fictional character choose the words published under my name? I don’t know.
I do know that I’m ultimately responsible for what I write and would never intentionally hurt anyone with my words. However, I also think there is authenticity and power in letting go of my own ego when writing – letting the muse or my characters have their say, unfettered by my personal whims and ideals. Maybe this is just a valid option for writing persona poetry, my current flame. Or maybe this applies to all writers in all fictional genres. I’m not sure yet but I do know that I feel more strength in the characters I write when I let them flow rather than planning or guiding them too strictly.
When writing “Flooded By”, I loved meeting those sixty people. Like Melody, the ghost in love with a priest. Trevor and Sarah Jane, a first grader and his teacher enduring 9-11. Harry, finding his place in the world as a cross-dresser. Prince Valiant, throwing a hissy fit about being a prince in a “goofy-ass fairytale.” And, one of my all-time favorites (don’t tell the others), Scarlett – a feisty, complicated Lady Clairol red-head with a lot of sass and a smidge of regret.
For me and my characters, we’re going to keep on trucking in a way that works for us and leave it up to readers and other writers to decide whether I’m a medium or psychic, cousin of Sybil headed toward a straight jacket or just a quirky creative writer of persona poetry and characters that have their own lives.
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T. Haven Morse is an award-winning, multi-genre writer with a persona poetry collection that came out in March 2017, "Flooded By." She also has a SFF persona poetry collection due out later this year called "Spacey Sheet", in which Haven “channels” Darth Vader, Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen, Captain Kirk, and a whole host of other characters from classic and modern SFF stories. Stay tuned for release information by subscribing to the Balcony Buzz newsletter. You can purchase "Flooded By" on Amazon in Kindle or print editions and at select bookstores.