Thursday, March 20, 2014

Assignment 16: Response to Phyllis McGinley

"Girl in the Mirror" - Norman Rockwell

Portrait of a Young Girl with Comic Book
Phyllis McGinley

Thirteen’s no age at all. Thirteen is nothing.
It is not wit, or powder on the face,
Or Wednesday matinees, or misses’ clothing,
Or intellect, or grace,
Twelve has its tribal customs. But thirteen
Is neither boys in battered cars nor dolls,
Not Sara Crewe or movie magazine,
Or pennants on the walls.

Thirteen keeps diaries and tropical fish
(A month, at most); scorns jump-ropes in the spring;
Could not, would fortune grant it, name its wish;
Wants nothing, everything;
Has secrets from itself, friends it despises;
Admits none of the terrors it feels;
Owns half a hundred masks but no disguises;
And walks upon its heels.

Thirteen’s anomalous – not that, not this:
Not folded bud, or wave that laps a shore,
Or moth proverbial from the chrysalis.
Is the one age defeats the metaphor.
Is not a town, like childhood, strongly walled
But easily surrounded; is no city.
Nor, quitted once, can it be quite recalled –
Not even with pity.


This week I chose to respond to a poem I came across on the internet by Phyllis McGinley called Portrait of a Girl with Comic Book.  I loved the role of “thirteen” as a personified being, or group of beings.  It’s a coincidence because in our last class, there was a quote in a video clip we watched something along the lines of: “A pronoun is a kind of withdrawing from naming because naming is heavy.”  To give a name to a specific thirteen-year-old would eliminate that sense of community – the connection to our teenage selves.  It’s something that everyone in our generation and older generations share.

Phyllis McGinley incorporated great contrasts within her poem, transforming “thirteen” into a bridge between two very different periods of a girl’s life.  I especially loved the line, “But thirteen is neither boys in battered cars nor dolls, not Sara Crewe or movie magazine, or pennants on the walls.”  First of all, it relates to my life on a personal level because A Little Princess (in which Sara Crewe is a character) was one of my favorite movies as a young girl.  Of course it’s still one of my favorites, but I’m still a child at heart.  To contrast the princess “innocence” with modern magazines, and dolls with dates, McGinley portrays the confusion of this transitional age.

As an aspiring children’s book writer and illustrator, I’m partial to poetry with nice rhyme schemes.  McGinley’s was almost uncomfortable because it lacked a powerful beat and rhythm.  I think this added to the discomfort of the age she’s describing, though, so it works.  The words she chose to rhyme are very effective because alone, they scream “thirteen”.  “Despises” and “disguises”, for example, are two words often associated with the peer pressure and high standards of a budding teenager, as are “dolls” and “walls”, and “feels” and “heels”. 

One thing that really confused me about this poem was the title.  I’ve been mulling over why McGinley chose “Comic Book”, especially because comics are often associated with young males.  Perhaps she wanted to add to the confusion, or emphasize the sequence of life?  Comic books are a collection of sequential separate panels.  Maybe McGinley saw thirteen as one of these distinct panels, separate from the rest but still part of a large story. 

No comments:

Post a Comment