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As the title of Sylvia Kantaris’s poem Snapshotland suggests, this poem presents an image – a snapshot in time – intended to evoke positive emotional responses. A poet with a background in surrealism, and whose poetry occasionally veers towards the obscene, one can surmise that the imagery Kantaris presented in Snapshotland was intended in a more negative sense than otherwise might be the case. Almost an indictment of the artificiality of commercial advertisements that present hopelessly positive images of families enjoying life, such as one might see in an ad for vacation sites or for carbonated beverages, Kantaris’s poem is simply too positive to be anything other than cynical. Observe, for instance, its’ opening stanzas:
In Snapshotland everyone is happy all the time.
It is the promised land where people sit with flasks of tea
on smooth sand by a flat sea and smile and smile and smile.
The sun shines all day long and every day in Kodachrome
or sepia on sandboys and sandgirls who never
stop smiling from the time they first appear, with buckets,
in crisp, gingham pinafores and bonnets on the sea-shore.
The use of the phrase “snapshot” in its title and the reference to “Kodachrome” (a throw-back of sorts to the pre-digital photography era when cameras with film were the norm) suggest a scene captured on film or on canvas that will live forever despite the probability that the people in the photograph or painting will, in fact, eventually experience illnesses, natural disasters, heartbreak, drug addiction, and, eventually, death. Just like the old image of the “Marlboro Man” used to sell cigarettes by associating a carcinogenic tobacco product with male virility and the freedom of the great outdoors, Snapshotland evokes a scenario that only truly exists on paper:
Nobody in Snapshotland grows old unless they want to,
judging by the way they go on smiling so, in deck-chairs,
on the beach, or in old-fashioned gardens with lavender
and grandchildren here and there - and no one dies, ever.
The late Norman Rockwell painted images of Americans celebrating their freedoms and enjoying the everyday pleasures of life. He died a wealthy man, but critics wasted no opportunity to contrast Rockwell’s imagery with the decidedly more unattractive side of Americana, with its endemic racism and slums and pollution. With Snapshotland, Kantaris has produced, in poetic form, a rebuttal to the positivism prevalent in those other, more commercial forms of imagery. Her women would be more reflective of the “Stepford Wives” syndrome than of “the real housewives” phenomenon. Beneath the beauty and idyllic imagery lies an uglier reality. Then, again, maybe she intended to create a positive image that represented the life she wanted to live.
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