Poetry Provocation Five: Qualities of Personification

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

By Gillian Kessler:

I first read Ruth Gendler’s “The Book of Qualities” when I was a senior in high school. My acting teacher used her personification poems as acting exercises, and I went on to weave them into my valedictory speech. Since that time, I have choreographed dances to her texts, heard original music inspired by her poems, and watched artists craft characters to her words. Over the years, the writing inspired by her artistic style has proven to be one of my tried and true exercises. Not only does it teach about the vital poetic device of personification, it unlocks creative doors that hinge on detail and imagination.

Below are a few excerpts from Gendler’s book, though I highly recommend finding it, reading it from cover to cover, and then playing with her form.


Inspiration is disturbing. She does not believe in guarantees or insurance or strict schedules. She is not interested in how well you write your grant proposal or what you do for a living or why you are too busy to see her. She will be there when you need her, but you have to take it on trust. Surrender. She knows when you need her better than you do.



Honesty is the most vulnerable man I have ever met. He is simple and loving. He lives in a small town on a cliff near the beach. I had forgotten how many stars there are in the midnight sky until I spent a week with him at his house by the sea.

In my time I have been afraid of so many things, most especially of the heights and of the darkness. I know if I had been driving anywhere else, the road would have terrified me. Knowing I was on my way to see him softened the fear. And in his presence the darkness becomes big and deep and comforting. He says if you are totally vulnerable you cannot be hurt.


Joy drinks pure water. She