Girl Powdering her Neck by Cathy Song is written with a painting perspective with reference to Ukiyo-e by Utamaro. The present poem is based on a picture, a special kind of Japanese woodprint by famous printer Utamaro; she meditates on the art intently until she gains a vision for the life of the courtesan (rich prostitute) depicted on it, and on the nature of human beauty and appearance.

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Cathy Song (Born in 1955)


The poem describes the image of a girl printed in Ukiyo-e. The whole description is of painting, and the painting is the image of the bathroom, the time is morning and the girl is in the bathroom. Outside the bathroom, there is a pair of slippers. She is taking a bath inside bathroom, her body is emitting vapor, and she kneels down to check her beauty in the mirror. The girl is trying her best to make herself attractive and seductive. She has to give the impression of being beautiful. She is trying to make her skin soft. She is professional prostitute, she practices pleasure, she has to give pleasure to others, she has to do everything not for herself but for the other, she is just objectified. She encounters males whom she does not know. She has been practicing pleasure.

She puts the clothing revealing the nape of her neck and curve of the shoulders. Some of her body is uncovered. She has to appear seductive to males. She has been preparing herself in such a way to attract males. The girl belongs to lower strata of the society, her occupation is her compulsion. It is something, she is made to choose. Throughout the poem, the girl is silence, but for the first time, she opens her mouth as if she is going to speak something or break the symmetry of silence, but she closes her mouth. She is trying to express her existential angst. She is not perhaps satisfied with her job. Therefore she might have tried to relieve herself through expressions, but immediately after that she becomes aware of social reality.

Until now, she alone is the sole witness to what she does. But after the expression, the whole society will come to know what she does. Then there will be double exploitations social cum physical upon her. In order to avoid this social exploitation, she remains silent. Her reality is vast and unpresentable. The capitalistic institution transforms the human beings into monetary beings and one is compelled to earn for living at any cost. This girl is dancing as per the demand of capitalism but her male partners remain free when she suffers. She is representative of humanity in general. This poetry is trying to show that social life and professional life as prostitute cannot exist together. If she wants to live professional life, she should leave social life. If she wants to live social life, she cannot leave professional life so she has to leave one for the other.

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Sharma, Kedar N."Girl Powdering her Neck by Cathy Song: Summary and Critical Analysis." dearteassociazione.org, 2Nov. 2013, dearteassociazione.org/britishandamericanpoetry/girl-powdering-her-neck.html.