Good conversation about persona poems going on here with Steven, David, & Jeannine.
Here's my response and some more thoughts on the "I" in the poem--
It fascinates me and frightens me how many readers admitted to believing that a poem was true/autobiographical then feeling manipulated when learning that it wasn't.
Every poetry class from the very very beginning at the UW always taught me to assume the narrator in the poem was the "speaker" and not the poet. That was pounded in our heads, so honestly, it's been shocking for me to learn that there are still readers who believe the poet and the "I" in the poem as the same person.
Yes, sometimes they are the same. Sometimes I write highly personal poems based on a true experience. But I always believed readers were to assume it was a persona--"the speaker"--and not me, just as I was taught. I guess believing this allows me to write both personal poems and non-personal poems because it again, it offers a veil, a way to be seen, but not seen.
I'm happy to be the poet in the background and I'll also pour myself into my poems. I just need the contract with the reader that they connect with the poem first--the art--and later, we can be friends, we can sit together and have tea and I'll tell you the dark and secret details. I'll say, "Yes, this really happened." I'll say, "I wanted this to happen." But you need to be friends with the poem first. I'm just the typist, the woman behind the curtain who believes in Oz and all the beauty a poem can hold.
"As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart. You don't know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable. "
----The Wizard of Oz
Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow.