How to Write a Monologue Poem
A monologue poem -- also known as a dramatic monologue or a persona poem -- features a single speaker who is a fictional character and distinct from the poet or writer of the poem. Although earlier versions of the form exist, the monologue poem first rose to prominence in the work of Victorian poet Robert Browning.
Choice of Speaker
Explore what sort of person your speaker is before you start writing: what your speaker does for a living, where your speaker is from, what adjectives you would use to describe the speaker, what he or she looks like. Most importantly, ask yourself why this character needs to say what he or she has to say within the poem. Characters who feel a need to defend or explain themselves are often particularly good choices -- this lends a natural tension to the poem.
The speaker of a monologue poem exists primarily as a voice. The speaker’s voice should characterize him or her. Avoid relying on stereotypes or accents. Instead, ask how elements of your speaker’s personality relate to the way he or she speaks. If your speaker is full of himself, perhaps he speaks in long sentences filled with misused words. If your speaker is nervous, perhaps she speaks in only half-finished sentences.
Just as the speaker in a monologue poem is not the poet, the implied audience in a monologue poem is not always meant to be the poem’s actual readers. The implied audience, like the speaker, may be fictitious. The speaker in Robert Hayden’s poem “Night, Death, Mississippi” addresses his wife, telling her about the lynchings that he once took part in. He speaks differently with his wife than he might with a sheriff or his son. Consider who your implied audience is and how this audience affects your speaker’s monologue.
Dramatic irony refers to a situation in which a character in a poem is ignorant of something that the poem’s audience knows. Many monologue poems use dramatic irony to great effect. The speaker in Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” believes that he is presenting himself as a reasonable man, but the reader of the poem is meant to understand that he is in fact a murderer. Consider how you can use dramatic irony to allow your readers to understand things that the speaker is ignorant of.
Based in Chicago, Adam Jefferys has been writing since 2007. He teaches college writing and literature, and has tutored students in ESL. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, and is currently completing a PhD in English Studies.