From Billy Collins's MasterClass

Finding Your Voice: Creating a Persona

Learn how to develop a distinctive persona for yourself, solving most issues around writing poetry.

Topics include: Draw From Your Own Personality · My Persona: A Person of Leisure


Learn how to develop a distinctive persona for yourself, solving most issues around writing poetry.

Topics include: Draw From Your Own Personality · My Persona: A Person of Leisure

Billy Collins

Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

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[MUSIC PLAYING] BILLY COLLINS: Most issues about craft and how to write the poem are solved once you have a persona. Because the way you write, how you write, the style you write in, these are just the mannerisms of your persona. It's kind of mysterious talking about how do you invent this character, this persona. But I think the persona is a character. Let's say, Dickens, or Thackeray, or Balzac, and any novelist of large proportions, they leave the earth having invented dozens, scores, hundreds of characters. If you're a poet you just have to invent one character, and then you're done. All done, for life. And that's your persona. But to make it less mysterious, the persona is really a voice that is yours. It could be the result of reading. But you still feel very comfortable with it. And you feel that you own that. An illustration would be Seamus Heaney has a famous signature poem called "Digging," which appeared in this first book. And Heaney said at one point that when he finished writing the poem "Digging," he read it back. And he realized that no one else could have written it but him. That means he discovered his persona. That's another way to put it. When you read something back that it just has your mark on it. The ingredients are too mysterious to corral. But no one else could have written that but you. You won't know that unless you have done a lot of reading. So you better read a lot. Because you think no one else sounds like that but you. But maybe there's someone that you haven't read sounds exactly like that. So the more you read, that's another way to say that without reading you'll never find a persona. You'll never have the surety that this voice is just yours and yours alone. [MUSIC PLAYING] I would say generally, most of us are a little too nice in our poetry. I think when we write poems we put a lot of ourself in the closet. And we put on our better self, more sensitive, more in tune with emotions. And I would suggest that it's a good idea to get that salt out of the closet and let that person, let her or him into your poem. And let some of the raggediness of your life, even if you're a sarcastic person. I know this from teaching that you'll find some wiseguy poet. And he writes these love poems with roses and trellises. And he's just a wise alec in class. Get some that wise alec stuff into your poems. We're talking about modeling your work after other poets. But you all have, every person has a voice, and a temperament, and a tonal range, and a way of sounding, and a sense of humor or a lack of humor. Some people are more sober and ambitious. And other people are wackier and looser. That's your personality. You can't spell that without persona. So you can draw from other poets, of course, but you don't want to get lost. It often starts with imitation. But that is the way you get these poets inside yourself. But ideally, you come out with a voice that you feel very comfortable w...

Let imagination lead the way

Known for his wit and wisdom, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets. In his MasterClass, Billy teaches you to appreciate the emotional pull of poetry. Learn his approach to exploring subjects, incorporating humor, and finding your voice. Discover the profound in the everyday, and let poetry lead you to the unexpected.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I am a teacher and wanted to hear some tips from Billy Collins and how he teaches poetry. He does mention a few tips that I can share. Thanks.

I don't know if it has improved what I can do ... I haven't done enough of it yet to have a comparison... I enjoyed the class, the descriptions of the process. I will have to find out how effective this was by doing.

Billy has inspired me in a new way. I've taken several poetry classes but none were as down to earth as this one. "Don't censor yourself". "Know when to be clear and when to be mysterious" . "Write a poem in your natural speaking voice". I enjoyed his dry wit and his tone, so nice to listen to.

This class is thoughtful, informative, and supportive of poetry, of writing practice, and of poets.



I enjoyed the commentary about persona but would like have wanted more depth on the subject. Again I find some of the lessons too short.


Dear Masterclass help desk: Please can u configure that when we r watching lessons in a row, the speed and the captions mantain from one lesson to the next one? It's anoying having to set them again every next lesson, specially when u watch this while spinnig or jumpin the rope. Thnx!

A fellow student

The idea that we're "never alone" when we write is intriguing -- that we're always accompanied by the writers we've encountered and studied. This is helpful for students to understand, that our own voice is developed through a chorus of other voices.

John S.

"The persona is a character." Collins reminds us that as poets our voice is really not who we are, but who we are playing at the moment. I think this is a good lesson for us to know as writers and as readers of poetry.

Jody L.

The idea of persona is interesting. I'm reminded of Mary Oliver's poetry, and how her persona comes through regardless of the poem's subject.

Carol B.

This lesson really helped me understand persona. The person behind the pen. My companion in the quiet. Thank you!


I haven't been commenting on or rating the lessons but I have to take a moment to say that this is one of the best Masterclasses being offered. These lessons are fantastic in so many ways. Thank you Masterclass and Billy Collins.