Persona has a wide-ranging and far-reaching role in the literary tradition. Early in its history, poetry operated as an oral chronicle of important cultural and historical events, a way of both “knowing” and “remembering,” of handing down stories to future generations. The storyteller’s point of view was of witness or scribe, and poems were very rarely written in the first-person narrative.
Utilizing personae as both poetic alter ego and as a foil to their own narrative perspectives, modern poets retold the story. T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” from which this anthology takes its title, is an excellent example of persona as alter ego, allowing the poet to voice the unspeakable and think the unthinkable without direct ownership, consequence, or reproach. In this way, the idea of “hiding behind a mask” can be utterly revealing and liberating.
The poems in this anthology represent the intersection of tradition and possibility. The poets range in age and accolade and draw their inspiration from sources that are as disparate as the ways in which information is disseminated in our multimedia world. From ancient mythology to popular culture, from fairy tales to tabloids, the voices in these poems address a wide range of issues that are historical, contemporary, and ultimately timeless.