Personification is attributing human characteristics to things that are not human. We do this all the time in our society. Images of Jack Frost or Mother Nature are personification of seasons and nature. We refer to our cars as he or she end even give them names. I accuse my computer of being angry or being a jerk all the time. Anthropomorphism is like personification, but it refers attributing human characteristics to animals. I definitely do this to my pets. There is a great Twitter account called “My Cat is Sad” that is a great example of this. Check it out.

Good personification provides characterization, just like you did when you were writing your short stories. Joe Ely is one of my favorite musicians and songwriters, and he happens to be from my hometown of Lubbock. Go see him if you get a chance to see him live. His song “Cold Black Hammer” is, on a superficial level, about pumpjacks. I am certain this is an image you are very familiar with. Below are the lyrics as well as a video of his performance (because songs and poems are meant to be heard). Based on his personification and characterization, what does the human form of this pumpjack look like to you? Is it male or female? What color hair does he/she have? Is he/she beautiful or ugly? What lines make you think that?

Cold Black Hammer

By Joe Ely

She swings a cold black hammer

Pulls black blood from the ground

She swings a cold black hammer

She wears solid gold in her crown

Night after night she’s relentless

She is a slave driving queen

She swings a cold black hammer

And lines their pockets with green

She swings a cold black hammer

Her breasts are covered in sweat

She swings a cold black hammer

In a place you’ll never forget

She swings a cold black hammer

At night beneath the moon and the stars

She swings a cold black hammer

And lights the rich man’s cigar

Men come to her armed and ready

Bankers in suspenders and white shirts

She swings a cold black hammer

And rolls their bones in the dirt

She swings a cold black hammer

Her breasts are covered in sweat

She swings a cold black hammer

In a place you’ll never forget

YouTube URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA9lSNql10k

I think Ely makes this very clear that this is a woman. The language and sound of this song are very sensual. It seems like she is seducing these oil men. I have used this song in other classes to teach poetry interpretation. The majority also think she has black hair and is beautiful, but she is also rugged and dirty. She’s demanding, but she works hard too. It provides a wonderful commentary on the seductive power of this resource that drives the economy.

Although this lesson is about personification, notice how Ely uses repetition. The repeated use of the line “She swings a cold black hammer” mirrors the constant movement of the pumpjack. It never stops.

For this activity, write a poem that personifies an everyday object. Try to pick something unique but people would be familiar with. Use imagery and sound to characterize this object and paint a picture for the reader. It should be as clear as Joe Ely’s pumpjack seductress.

Your poem should be between 10 and 15 lines. A line needs a minimum of four words (but will probably have more).

You can write in free verse or have a specific structure and/or rhyme scheme. The choice is yours.

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