Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Picture Bride,” the title poem with which Song’s volume begins, serves as the seminal text of the collection, in a way defining the thematic direction of the book. In this poem, the poetic persona, aged twenty-four, attempts to imagine what it was like for her maternal grandmother, at the age of twenty-three, to leave Korea for Hawaii to marry a laborer thirteen years her senior, a man she had never seen before. The entire poem, except for the first three lines, consists of a series of questions intended to re-create not only the scenes of the departure, the journey, and the arrival but also the psychology and emotions of the picture bride throughout the process. The concluding question, which speculates on how willing she might have been with regard to her conjugal obligation (“did she politely untie/ the silk bow of her jacket,/ her tent-shaped dress”), focuses an entire economic and sociohistorical phenomenon onto the question of sexuality, making the poem linger on a moment of truth in human terms. This ability to crystalize the general into the personal is characteristic of Song’s poetry.
The figure of the picture bride serves as a muse of sorts for the poet, in part because the questions raised in “Picture Bride” are either answered or contextualized in the volume’s other poems. For example, in “Untouched Photograph of Passenger,” Song contemplates the picture of a man dressed in a poorly tailored suit who is gazing into the...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
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