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Girl Powdering Her Neck is a poem by Cathy Song. The poem contains a description of an artwork that is a Japanese woodblock print. This print depicts a woman looking in the mirror. In the poem, Song expresses her thoughts and perception of the artwork. The author uses her imagination to elaborate on who the woman in the print may be, where she is, and what she is doing.
Structure of the Poem
The poem under discussion is written using a blank verse structure which stands for the absence of rhyme. In terms of stanzas, the poem does not have a stable division. Instead, it is subdivided into pieces by their contents. In total, there are seven parts in this poem. The work starts and ends with parts that could be recognized as the introduction and conclusion. In the middle, it is divided into several bits that describe the room, the girl’s hair, her morning ritual, clothes and face, and the way she looks at her reflection in the mirror. When it comes to rhythm, the poem does not have one either. The length of the lines differs significantly throughout the poem. Some of them contain eight to ten syllables, and some – only three or five. Finally, the last part seems to be a haiku as it contains seventeen syllables, but instead of the traditional 5-7-5 structure, it has one misplaced syllable forming a 5-8-4 structure.
The poem is delivered in the form of a narration where the author provides a detailed description of the girl who is getting ready in the morning. Painting the verbal picture, the author mentions a variety of aspects of the environment that surrounds the girl. When Song writes about the girl’s appearance, she uses simile several times. For example, describing the girl’s hair, Song writes “Her hair is black/ with hints of red/ the color of seaweed/ spread over rocks” (12-15). In these lines, the author likens the girls’ hair to seaweed due to the similarity in color, and perhaps, shape and structure. Two more examples of simile are in the following lines: “and the curve of a shoulder/ like the slope of a hill” (30-31), “her face appears in the mirror/ a reflection in a winter pond” (34-35). I like how the author compares the girl’s appearance and actions to the beauty of nature because, in my opinion, the natural beauty of hills, ponds, rocks, and water with seaweed is more striking than anything made by people. Moreover, the author uses several metaphors in the following lines: “maple leaves/drifting across the silk” (25-26) and “the mouthparts/ as if desiring to disturb” (43-44). Here, embroidered leaves are portrayed as moving objects, and the girl’s mouth – as an animate individual with desires.
In terms of sound devices, the author uses assonance in the first line: “the light is inside” (1) repeating the stressed vowel sound, and alliteration – in the second line: “sheen of an oyster shell” (2) repeating the initial consonant sound. Moreover, dissonance may be found in the following line: “stenciled into the mask of beauty” (48). Here, it is possible to hear a chaotic sound that is emphasized by this line being longer and more difficult to pronounce than all the others.
In summary, the poem by Song is very beautiful and complex. The author put much effort into its creation. Also, the poem reveals that Song was inspired by the print she describes and put some thought into its exploration. Comparing the girl and her ritual to various shapes and phenomena that occur in nature, the author compliments her beauty and adds a very unique tone to the poem. For me, the poem is associated with zen philosophy, minimalism, and at times sounds like Japanese instrumental music.