Cathy Song Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Cathy Song deal with family history in “Picture Bride” and related poems? What are some of the issues with which a young poet might have to grapple in her approach to this family history?

Women and their activities recur frequently in Song’s poetry. How does she portray these women, and what is the significance of their activities in Song’s poems? Would you argue that she is a feminist poet?

What is ethnicity, and what kind of impact does it have on Song’s attempts to explore her personal experiences and transform them into works of art that appeal to a broad audience? In what ways can the poet deal with ethnicity differently and maintain her integrity as a person and an artist?

What kind of conflicting values does “Sunworshippers” exemplify? How does the poet resolve those conflicts? Is the resolution satisfactory?

What does the term “ghost” refer to, and how does Song reshape the meaning of this term in the poem “Ghost”? What can Americans on the mainland learn from this poem?

What role does the figure of the mother play in Song’s poetry? Does she expand or does she limit the poet’s literary imagination?

What role does art play in Song’s poetry?

Without categorizing in facile terms such as “Asian American” or “Hawaiian,” how would you characterize Song’s lyrical voice?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Cathy Song is primarily a poet. She first wrote short stories and published one, “Beginnings (For Bok Pil),” in the Spring, 1976, issue of Hawaii Review.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Cathy Song is the first native Hawaiian writer to receive national recognition for her work. She has also made significant contributions to Asian American literature. Her work is applauded by mainstream critics and scholars, and she has been included in a variety of important anthologies, including the Norton Anthology of American Literature and the Heath Anthology of American Literature. Individual poems have been published in numerous important journals, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry, and Kenyon Review.

Song’s first book of poetry, Picture Bride, was selected for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1982 and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1986, she received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine. She also received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Hawaii Award for Literature, both in 1994. In 1997, the National Endowment for the Arts made Song a creative writing fellow. She was awarded the Pushcart Prize in 1999, and her poetry earned the Best American Poetry Award in 2000.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloyd, Rebekah. “Cultural Convergences in Cathy Song’s Poetry.” Peace Review 10 (September, 1998): 393-400. Looks at the way Song’s poetry expresses the tensions felt by women existing with one foot each in contemporary and traditional cultures.

Fujita-Sato, Gayle K. “‘Third World’ as Place and Paradigm in Cathy Song’s Picture Bride.” MELUS 15, no. 1 (Spring, 1988): 49-72. Fujita-Sato analyzes Picture Bride in terms of its examination of “relationships among ethnicity, culture, and writing.” She defines “third world” in two ways: as place and as paradigm. She sees these two senses of the third world as interconnected and asserts that both are illustrated in Picture Bride.

Kyhan, Lee. “Korean-American Literature: The Next Generation.” Korean Journal 34, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 20-35. Kyhan reviews the history of Korean American literature and devotes the third section of his article to Song, the most widely known of those he considers the “next” or third generation of Korean American writers.

Song, Cathy. “Cathy Song: Secret Spaces of Childhood Part 2: A Symposium on Secret Spaces.” Michigan Quarterly Review 39, no. 3 (Summer, 2000): 506-508. In response to an invitation from editors of this MQR special issue to “[d]escribe a private realm of your own early life that has left vivid images in your memory,” Song reflects on her fascination with singing. In saying, “In singing I found my true voice,” she makes the implicit connection between this lifelong love of singing and her dedication to her voice, her poetry.

Sumida, Stephen H. “Hawaii’s Local Literary Tradition.” In And the View from the Shore: Literary Traditions of Hawai’i. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991. In the final chapter of his book, Sumida focuses on two poems by Song to support his contention that her work has broken the “critical stranglehold” on local Hawaiian literature that considered it “insular, provincial, not universal.”

Wallace, Patricia. “Divided Loyalties: Literal and Literary in the Poetry of Lorna Dee Cervantes, Cathy Song, and Rita Dove.” MELUS 18, no. 3 (Fall, 1993): 3-20. Wallace examines the work of three contemporary American women poets and women of color from the perspective of their struggle to reconcile the presentation of a literal, historical, and often personal world with the wish to incorporate the literary elements necessary to poetry.