In the last three weeks I’ve drawn nineteen self-portraits. Two resemble me; a third almost does. I prefer charcoal to pencil. In the mirror my left eyebrow is an upside down checkmark laying on its side. In a photograph it’s flat, as it turns with the side of my head it drops off like the shallow slope of ridge. A raised eyebrow indicates suspicion. The only possible explanation is that when I look at myself in a mirror I look at myself with suspicion. What would a self-portrait teach you about yourself?

Poems are self-portraits.

In Picasso’s 1907 he captured his nose, eyes and forehead.

The mirror sits on the table; a Stanford drawing pad, four charcoal pencils, razor for sharpening, kneaded eraser, and a steel ruler are also on the table. Other things on the table include a glass of chardonnay and an ashtray with a smoldering Santa Damiana cigar. My eyes vowels. My nose is a consonant.

There was a time I believed if I wrote a self-portrait, I mean a detailed life-like rendering in nouns and verbs, it would be a prose poem. I no longer believe that. Now I’m positive it would be a lyric poem broken in two stanzas of six lines and forty-one words each. A face is always formal. Self-portraits are always confessions.

Vincent Van Gogh did thirty-eight self-portraits. He hides his face in none of them. I’m using the word hides in the most literal sense. There are more important meanings and innuendos for “hides” and none would be incorrect.

I’m absolutely positive that Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a self-portrait.

Try describing yourself, your face, in twenty-nine words. Explain your hands without using an adjective.

When was the last time you read “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” by John Ashbery?

Each word you write becomes your personal property. No one would deny that our possessions speak loudly about us. I sat in a chair and wrote eleven lines describing the bookcase on the other side of the room. Each book was looking out at me from its spine and doing the same.

When writing your self-portrait do not start with “I am.” Never use a roller ball pen to write a self-portrait. Never write a self-portrait in the afternoon. Rules are important as they are reliable frames.

The Son of Man was the title of Renee Magritte’s self-portrait. In the painting he wears a bowler and a suit and stands in front of a wall, the sea is behind the wall, and his face is behind a large green apple. Self-portraits are poems. The poet is not required to reveal himself in a poem.