Girl Powdering Her Neck by Cathy Song

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Girl Powdering Her Neck” is both about the girl of the title and Utamaro’s depiction of her. As in poems by William Carlos Williams, Cathy Song “reads” the work of a visual artist and finds meaning in it, leading the reader to see beyond the surface of the beauty the print depicts. The “peach-dyed kimono/ patterned with maple leaves/ drifting across the silk” is a lovely image whose surface is so perfect there seems to be no need to look beyond it. Yet Cathy Song offers an interpretation of this beauty that is at odds with its pure serenity. By gazing long enough at the woman preparing to powder her neck, some idea about what is going on in the woman’s mind surfaces: She may have something to say but does not. She is so thoroughly masked by the powder, the berry-stain, even the...

(The entire section is 288 words.)