Poetry essay: different persons

When you write poetry you can write it in first person, second person, third person, about an implied person, about an ambiguous person, or in some combination.  Each way has pros and cons and affects a poem differently.

First person

When you write a poem in first person, it comes across personally.  You are writing about what you did.  This has a way of making the poem smaller in a sense.  The poem isn’t about an idea, but rather about how that idea affects you.

First person poetry can be good in this way in a sense.  When the topic is personal, writing about it from a personal perspective can make a greater impact.  There is a difference between writing about a disease, for example, and writing about a disease that you have.

This though, can be limiting in some sense.  Some readers might not be able to relate as well to the poem.  The poem can sometimes be too particular to your condition and not have a wide enough impact.

First person poetry also can be narrow in its scope.  There’s a difference between writing about traffic, for example, and writing about the traffic you experience.  You are touching more on an experience rather than an idea.  Some readers might like this approach, whereas others may not.

When you write first person poetry, there can sometimes be an inclusion of details.  This is because you are writing about something you know.  This can be good in the sense that it makes a poem more authentic.  It can be limiting in the sense that not all readers may understand the details.  For example, if you write a poem about traffic, and mention a particular road where you live, the ideas implied by that particular road might not come across to readers who aren’t familiar with it.

Second person

This essay is written in second person.  It is written to you, the reader.  Writing in second person can have a more conversational tone than writing in first or third person.  This tone applies to poetry as well as prose.

When you write a poem in second person you are communicating with a reader.  It may be all readers (like this essay) or it might be directed to a particular reader (even if others read it as a well).  It is a one way communication, although through the use of anticipating a reader’s response, this can be lessened some.

When you write a poem in second person, because it is directed at a reader, it, like first person poetry, has a way of focusing on a person rather than an idea.  Similar to the situation with first person poetry, this can limiting in some sense.

Second person poetry can be a good style if you want to say something.  It is a good style to use to get a point across.

Additionally, when you write in second person it can sound less formal than when you write in third person.  Depending on the goal of the poem this can be positive or negative.

Third person

When you write third person poetry, you write poems about another person that isn’t the reader.  This other person could be a real person, a fictional person, or more specifically, a symbolic person.

A symbolic person can be used to represent an idea.  An example might a symbolic patient in a hospital.  You aren’t writing about a real, particular patient, or even a known fictional patient (like a character from a story) but rather you are writing about the idea of a patient.

Third person poetry can be good for writing about bigger ideas.  It can be a good style when you want to expand the scope of your poem and the audience that it can impact.  This can especially be the case if the third person is symbolic.

Sometimes you might write third person poetry about a real person.  In writing about someone, you can impart your perspective of the person and write around the person.

Implied person

An implied person is a first, second, or third person that isn’t named.

When you write about an implied person, you leave an overt mention of the person out of the poem and write instead about their experience.  The person is still understood by the reader, you just don’t say who it is.

For example, look at this poem:

watch the clouds
feel the air
a storm is coming

This poem is written to second person.  It is implied that you watch the clouds, you feel the air.  It is a poem written to the reader.

The verbs used indicated the person.  Had “watch” been “watches” and “feel” been “feels” the poem would have been implied to be about a third person.

A poem written about an implied person can have the benefits of a poem written overtly in the person, but the style can make the poem feel broader.  As a negative though, the poem might not have as much impact because the person isn’t mentioned.

Ambiguous person

When you write a poem about an ambiguous person, the subject of the poem isn’t clear.

Here is an example poem:

walking home
each dark night
when will it be morning?

In this poem, who is walking home?  Is it M. Sakran or a third person?  It isn’t clear from the poem.

When you write a poem about an ambiguous person, there can be some benefits.

First, you can write about something personal without it sounding overtly as such.  This can be good if you want to express something indirectly.

Second, you can write about something that isn’t personal, in a style that feels somewhat so.  You can write about an experience you haven’t experienced in a way that still can sound authentic.

The ambiguity of writing about an ambiguous person can confuse some readers and depending on how you write it can be hard to have a poem sound like it could apply to first, second, and third person.

Some combination

You can write a poem in a combination of persons.  Think of a poem written in both first and second person.  This would be poem where you write to someone but also speak about yourself.  An analogy would be something like a letter.

When you combine persons in a poem, you have to be careful that you are clear at each instance which person you are writing about.  Additionally, you don’t want to switch to an unintended person (for example switching from second person to third person).  It can sound off to readers.


When you write a poem you have a number of options to choose from when deciding the subject of the poem.  Who you choose can impact the style of your poem and how you express the idea.  When you write poetry, you should try to write with different persons and express ideas in different ways.  As an exercise you might write a poem in each of the persons above and see how the poem changes with each.

Artwork to inspire poetry: Potato Person

Potato Person

Above is an artwork called Potato Person.  It was made by arranging potatoes to make a person shape, taking a photograph of the arrangement, and computer altering the photograph.  This artwork can inspire poetry.  One idea is would be to see symbolism in a person made out of potatoes and apply this idea to a poem.  The idea of a person being metaphorically made of something basic could be used in a variety of ways in a poem.

Here is an example poem inspired by the artwork:

After working in the ground,
for months on end,
the farmer finally sold,
pieces of himself.