You’re so white this is like talking to a page.
What fills the darkness behind the mask
is on your side. It wouldn’t wreck you
to come to the party dressed as a princess:
you are a princess—one we fall in love with
because we can’t imagine being you.
You don’t believe this. You slouch by the fire
making its shapes matter. The cat
on your lap dreams of biting off a little life for herself.
Who would you rend and snap, if you had those teeth?
Forget it. The kitchen walls contain you
like a well.
When everyone is gone, the silence
liberates you, encourages your scraps
of songs, fantastic stories of thousand-candle
ballrooms, your magic drawings in the ashes.
Questions and Answers
What inspired “Cinderella”?
Cinderella was inspired by an artistic movement, and by the people and events around me.
The Surrealist movement in European art and literature flourished early in the 20th century. Its practice relied on a trust in the unconscious and emotive aspects of the self, and an avoidance of rational, logical processes, which the Surrealists thought to be restrictive and indeed destructive of creative activity. The “Pope of Surrealism,” Andre Breton, was profoundly influenced by his experience in a medical unit during the First World War, caring for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders brought on by combat. A society based on rational and progressive ideals had precipitated the worst mass slaughter in human history. It was time for a new model of experience.
In North America, the movement was adopted after the Second World War by the New York poets Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and John Ashbery. I modelled the formal structure—fifty four-quatrain poems—of my first book, Domestic Economy (in which this poem appears), on Ashbery’s Shadow Train.
What poetic techniques did you use in “Cinderella”?
In my poetic practice I trust my intuition to provide the initial feelings, images, phrases, memories, which I form into a musical sequence of sounds and a collage-like structure of meaning. The rhythms of the poem carry to the reader as much of the meaning, the physical, emotive sense of the poem, as do the images and phrases.
Using the dreamlike imagery of folk tales, the poem addresses an artist, in her social role as the despised drudge and outcast, Cinderella. Instead of seeking revenge or struggling for material success and status, she is fulfilled through the exercise of her creative imagination. Do you think “magic drawings” is an acknowledgement of artists as shamans, spiritual leaders, “unacknowledged legislators of the world?”
The poem loosely follows the natural rhythm of our everyday speech, emphasized by a four- or five-beat line. (The sentence is the basic unit of prose; the line is the building block of the poem.) Clear visual images help us enter the poem’s world. Is the poem addressing the creative individual in each of us, as well as a specific person, when it is“[T]alking to a page?” The more meanings and interpretations we can find in a work of art—the more it rewards us by educating our imagination—the better the poem.