The White Porch: a Journey from Child to Woman

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The White Porch: A Journey From Child to Woman

The poetry of Cathy Song is a flowing collection of soft spoken and colorful imagery. She gently weaves her thoughts into an imaginative yet graceful story that has an overall sensual tone to it. Cathy invites the reader into her personal sanctuary of memories. She allows the reader to share in some of her most personal and critical moments in life. Some may think these things mundane but, when reading her poetry you can feel how utterly important they are to her. This can be evidenced in her poem The White Porch. Cathy uses this poem to allow the reader to participate in that moment of a woman’s life when she realizes that she is no longer a child.

To understand her writings, we must understand the woman she is. When you read her poetry, you sense a quiet tone and a deep seated loyalty to family. Cathy was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 20, 1955, the middle of three children (Sato). Her father was a commercial pilot which enable her family to travel extensively and live a fairly middle class life. This ability to travel feed her desire to write. She became an avid family historian at an early age. One reviewer in Poetry reported "She sees the present moment as potential memory, the latest addition to the palimpsest that is the past." (Wikipedia)

Her need to chronicle her family history may stem from the interesting journey taken by her grandparents as they embarked on the American Dream. Her grandfather was among the first wave of immigrants from Korea and her grandmother, a picture-bride, part of an arranged marriage was from China (Sato). Song uses many themes in her poetry that are based on her grandparents and their experiences.

As she entered into Wellesley College in Boston, her writing seemed to flourish. She earned a Bachelor’s in English literature in 1977 and then completed a Master’s at Boston University in 1981.(Wikipedia) While living in Boston, she attended an advanced writing workshop taught by Kathleen Spivack. She became on of Cathy’s strongest mentor’s. Her advice to Cathy was to send her writings to the mainstream publishers and not only to Asian publications. This advice was well worth listening to because Yale University Press published her first book of poetry, "Picture Bride" in 1983 and her second volume, Frameless Windows was published in 1988 by W.W. Norton. Then, another big name in publishing, The University of Pittsburgh Press published School Figures in 1994. (Wikipedia)

This advice didn’t come without some small price though. Many Asian critics feel that she is out of touch with the Asian community and can’t thourghly convey their sufferings. Some have criticized her as a "middle-class poet"(Wikipedia) for not having a personal history of suffering. She challenges these critic’s by stating that "We all suffer in different ways. I don’t have to have grown up on a plantation speaking pidgin and having someone beat me to write good poetry"

Song married Douglas McHarg Davenport a medical student at Tufts University while she was living in Boston. Once he completed his training they moved back to Honolulu and have lived there ever since where she continues her writing by focusing on women’s issues (Wikipedia).

In The White Porch, Cathy uses lots of descriptive imagery to illustrate the moment when a girl becomes a woman and realizes that she is no longer a child. The poem begins with a young woman enjoying a leisurely morning. She washes her hair which is described as “bulky as a sleeping cat” (line 5) and dripping wet. The heaviness of her hair is important because it will take a long time for it to dry naturally. And, it plays into line 9 -10 “it’ll be dry by supper, by the time the dust settles off your shoes, though it’s only five past noon.” This line seems to imply that she is married and waiting for her husbands return from work in the evening.

The woman is spending her day alone and without any urgency....
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