NaPoMo, Day 1: A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair

For the first week of April I am reading ten poems a day, listing them here (with links when available), and discussing my favorite of the ten: why I liked it, and what I observed of technique. As always, these posts are open to response and commentary! I am going to try and mix it up so that I read from eclectic anthologies as well as the selected poems of a handful of poets.

The poem I want to talk about today is this:

“A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair”

by Li Ho

Awake at dawn

she’s dreaming

by cool silk curtains

fragrance of spilling hair

half sandalwood, half aloes

windlass creaking at the well

singing jade

the lotus blossom wakes, refreshed

her mirror

two phoenixes

a pool of autumn light

standing on the ivory bed

loosening her hair

watching the mirror

one long coil, aromatic silk

a cloud down to the floor

drop the jade comb — no sound

delicate fingers

pushing the coils into place

color of raven feathers

shining blue-black stuff

the jewelled comb will hardly hold it

spring wind makes me restless

her slovenly beauty upsets me

eighteen and her hair’s so thick

she wears herself out fixing it!

she’s finished now

the whole arrangement in place

in a cloud-patterned skirt

she walks with even steps

a wild goose on the sand

turns away without a word

where is she off to?

down the steps to break a spray of

cherry blossoms


I wanted to start with a poem that shows how loose and poignant poetry can be. As you can see with “A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair,” a poem doesn’t have to follow a set scheme of rhyme, or couplets, or meter. This poem is free verse and inconsistent in form, but still gorgeous.

The other element I wanted to highlight from the beginning is the use of concrete imagery. The reason poems can be so brief is because they communicate through image and sense. Cool silk curtains, sandalwood, aloes, windlass, well, jade, the jewelled comb: all these things create visual images, and many appeal to smell and touch and sound. It is through details such as these the poet can take an ordinary, everyday phenomenon– brushing one’s hair– and make it a refreshing, vivid experience.

Today’s complete reading (my favorites are starred):

From Poetry, An Introduction, compiled by Michael Meyer (Fifth Edition)

  1. “Fat is Not a Fairy Tale” by Jane Yolen
  2. “End of April” by Phillis Levin
  3. “A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair” by Li Ho*
  4. “Junior Year Abroad” by Luisa Lopez*
  5. “The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently” by Thomas Lux

From The Great Enigma, collected poems of 2011 Nobel Prize winner Tomas Tranströmer:

  1. “About History”
  2. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty”
  3. “Black Postcards”*
  4. “Fire-Jottings”*
  5. “Slow Music”*