A while back, I posted a prompt about wearing masks. With Halloween just around the corner, this seems a great time to revisit that idea and to write about masks, both literal and metaphorical. 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, to be 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, let’s consider the kinds of masks we wear and why we wear them. (Remember: masks may be anything that disguises or conceals—physical features, 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. People in emotional pain may mask their distress with smiles, and unhappy children may wear the masks of class clowns or bullies. In many cases, people who suffer from depression will deliberately seem to be happy or optimistic; similarly, people who suffer from anxiety will create an illusion of being relaxed or at ease. This kind of deliberate mask-wearing is a kind of protection, but it can be very lonely.
What masks have you worn?
1. What metaphorical mask do you wear most often? What does it hide? Write a poem about this.
2. 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?
3. 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.
4. Write a poem about a time, place, social gathering or other situation in which you would have liked to wear an actual mask.
5. Write a poem about a memorable Halloween (read Catherine Doty’s “Living Room” from her book Momentum: Click here and scroll down to the poem http://www.kickingwind.com/073007.html).
6. Write a poem about the best or scariest Halloween mask you’ve ever worn or ever seen.
We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Mask by William Butler Yeats