The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Diane Wakoski’s “The Girls” consists of six verse paragraphs in which the first-person speaker addresses the differences, both physical and intellectual, between herself and other women, whom she labels “the girls.” Since “girls” is a term customarily used by male chauvinists to describe females of all ages, Wakoski’s poem has a decidedly feminist edge. “The Girls” was written “for Margaret Atwood and Cathy Davidson”: Atwood is a Canadian writer and literary critic with feminist views, and Davidson is a feminist literary critic.

In the first two verse paragraphs the speaker stresses the differences between herself and “the girls.” While they have thin hips and lemon-scented hands and look like models in fashion magazines, she sees herself with “fat ankles/ And ass as soft as a sofa pillow.” She, however, is the “class brain” who answers more questions in class than they do. More significant, she is the “ugly duckling class brain,” an allusion to the fable about the seemingly ugly duckling which becomes a beautiful swan. In effect, the speaker envies the girls who torment her (Valerie Twadell, who “chased [her] with worms”), but she also feels superior to them.

The third paragraph continues the description of the physical beauty of the girls and also develops the motif of snakes introduced in the fourth line of the poem. Cathy is slim with a fashionable “Zelda-ish bob,” and Peggy is as “slender and...

(The entire section is 602 words.)