I imitated Bernadette Mayer’s “House and Bernadette,” using the particular device of personification. She give the house a voice and feelings and opinions and even a sexual orientation. I didn’t go quite this far, because I only gave it feeling and possibly opinions. The title of my exercise was the question “What offends a house?” inspired by Mayer’s line “H: Emptiness insults me but I have my limits and you have exceeded them.” This led in my poem to a more philosophical exploration of the function and purpose of houses and the way we should treat them and, perhaps by implication, people. There was no conversation at all, but the idea of something inanimate as thinking and feeling was definitely present.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to personification, but I think it can serve a number of purposes. When you get down to it, personification is just a metaphor: This object is like a person. But the metaphor is much less directly stated, and is inferred through such things as the voice of the object itself. This tends to put the metaphor into a more subservient category. The point isn’t that a house is like a person, but rather, that if a house were, it might speak like this and have feelings like that if it were treated the way this particular person treats it. The metaphor becomes a lens to which we look at ourselves by giving just one aspect of us (sentience) to something which in most other ways is completely unlike us. Perhaps the distance and juxtaposition of that make objective observations of ourselves easier. Maybe they convey things we couldn’t say as precisely when they were coming through our own voices.

Personification, I’m sure, can serve many other functions as well, but for me I think the most valuable thing I get out of it is a different way of seeing than I’m used to, a sudden unfamiliar angle which lets me view the world in different fashions which might be insighful or illuminating to me.

4 Responses to “Personification”

  1. I think personification is one of the most natural forms of metaphor. Humans want things to relate to themselves. When a human sees a totally abstract thing–lets say the pattern of leaves on the ground, they look for faces. Hence–the man in the moon. We want to see ourselves in the world around us because it is comfortable and familiar. I think that if one were to play with this, see themselves in things they didn’t want to, one could perhaps create a conflict that could be explored in the dialectical structure.

  2. stephroush Says:

    The line that sparked your Dialectical-Argument exercise holds a level of opposition that interests me. You write: “The title of my exercise was the question “What offends a house?” inspired by Mayer’s line “H: Emptiness insults me but I have my limits and you have exceeded them.”” I see a dialectical-argument structure formed by your question and then the line from Mayer in response. I think the ideas of both emptiness and excess offending a house are different enough points to be opposing each other in this structure. I know this might not be the route you took in your exercise, but I felt a bit inspired from your example. This makes me want to raid my books for some hidden prompts like these. I think a big problem I have in the dialectical-argument structure is just finding material that doesn’t seem so forced. When I was trying to write down examples in class, I really struggled to find things I could work into a full-length dialectical-argument structure. I am going to look for some prompting phrases now to see that makes the process less daunting. Who knows though, maybe I will find the structure more belabored.

  3. I like what Liz said about humans looking for humanness in the world around them; I often find myself obsessing about humanness versus nonhumanness. However, I don’t think that personification is truly outside our usual line-of-sight. The act of personifying is, in a way, an image we put on something else. We are keeping that personified object recognizable–we are keeping it human! Thus, personification wouldn’t be so much of an outside perspective, but a very personal/familiar one…

  4. I forgot to say that I have similar experiences to Steph with dialectical-argument structure. I find myself formulating the poem before I write it, more or less creating an outline, and the ensuing poem is always awful. I think this structure is simply not natural to me, at least, hasn’t been natural in the cases I’ve tried it.

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