Saturday, October 23, 2010

Poetry Prompt #28 – Masks

With Halloween just around the corner, this week seems a great time to write about masks. Anyone who has dressed up for Halloween knows how transforming masks can be, how they provide a sense of escape, and how they offer a freeing quality that allows you to be someone other than yourself or, perhaps, who you really are. 

In literature, the persona poem derives from a Greek word that means “mask” and is a poem in which the poet figuratively dons a mask and writes from the fictional “I” of another viewpoint. This prompt, however, goes in a different direction. For our poetic purposes this week, let’s consider the metaphorical masks we wear and why we wear them. (Remember: masks may be anything that disguises or conceals – physical disguises, facial expressions, attitudes, and behaviors).

Most people wear “comfort masks” at times as protection from judgments, to guard their real feelings from others, to gain social or business positions, and to generally feel safe (i.e., people in emotional pain may mask their distress with smiles, and unhappy children may wear the masks of class clowns or bullies). What masks have you worn?


What metaphorical mask do you wear most often? What does it hide? Write a poem about this.
What “comfort mask” do you wear to guard your real feelings from others? Can you write about a time when you wore a “mask” for emotional protection? 
How are you like the Phantom of the Opera? What emotional scars do you hide behind a figurative “Phantom” mask? Write a poem about this.
Write a poem about a time, place, social gathering or other situation in which you would have liked to wear an actual mask.

Write a poem about a memorable Halloween (read Catherine Doty’s “Living Room” from her book Momentum: Click Here and Scroll Down)
Write a poem about the best or scariest Halloween mask you’ve ever had or seen (your own or someone else’s).

A few examples for you to enjoy:

Happy Halloween!


  1. The Mask of Many Faces

    There once was an ordinary man
    who masqueraded as a clown.
    Upon his sleeve, he wore but false emotion.

    His countenance bespoke everything - and nothing.
    Perpetual sadness ensconced within,
    his face slipped on the mask of the occasion,
    the personage for whom designed,
    or of the time, perhaps –
    or of the moment, so inclined.

    So often having changed expression
    he stood now perpetually expressionless.
    The face his own, or a mask?
    No one, not even he, could tell.

    An endless fluidity of persona, ebb and flow.
    Harmonized not with appearance.
    Deceived as much by appearance -
    as appearance deceived.

    White the cosmetic through which he sought unveiling.
    Unburden for once and for all
    the role he played
    for which the world accepted him.

    White cream produced white heat instead
    though no amount of flame could shear the crust which overlay –
    Rawhide replace where once stood beauty,
    Tenderness of touch,
    Warmth of smile.

    Invention upon invention!
    Fiction now ruled
    and sophistry imprisoned him.
    A sorcerer’s fate for a simple man.

    Now no more a child’s idol –
    employed at Mardi Gras.
    Grotesque false face of carnival.
    Perjured soul.
    Splendid thing – now lost.

    Can fable save some touch of mediocrity
    to mark the bounds of true complexion?
    Perchance the tears of time
    will wash away
    what otherwise cannot be moved.

    Ray Brown

  2. Love the image for this week's prompt! Very cool!

  3. Thanks, Ray, for posting your poem! Interesting psychological components and an almost surreal quality that lends itself to the Halloween season.

  4. The Looking In

    And this: afternoon's
    slow breach into night,
    the checkered tablecloth,
    empty glass, my face
    reflected in the window -
    his face looking in
    (stranger, other), our
    faces like masks.

    Just a few draft lines inspired by this prompt. I was sitting in a restaurant alone last night, well into my own thoughts when I looked up at the window to see my face reflected next to the face of a man outside, I was looking out , he was looking in. The experience was eerie, our faces like masks. I hope to work this into a poem. Thanks, Adele - this prompt is really interesting.


  5. Thanks, Jamie, for your comment and for the "draft" lines. Looks like you're off to a great start! I'd love to see the poem when it's completed.

  6. Whew! This one is a real challenge!

    Love the ideas ... working ... working ...

  7. In Fall

    “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...” Mother Teresa.

    Tell yourself, as leaves
    cover lawns, block
    gutters, crumble and

    crack beneath feet, that
    trees hide secrets, too.
    In silence obscured by

    wind, fortified by sun,
    coddled by clouds, notice
    the maple’s smile, the pine’s

    pride, the oak’s confidence.
    Step closer. See yourself—
    a wanderer among masked

    men, explorer without a
    mission, doctor with stethoscope
    in search of a heart.

    Remove lost pet posters tacked
    to trunks. Catch a few acorns.
    Chat with trees you’ve ignored

    or underestimated. Then, lose your
    way. Watch the stars move, and wait
    for whatever happens.

    Copyright © 2010 by Wendy Rosenberg. All rights reserved.

  8. Thanks for sharing your poem, Wendy. Great imagery, a touch of Surrealism, and a "wow" ending.