Pocahontas Rewritten or at Least Revised

Barbie (Photo credit: dog.happy.art)

It amazes me that this got a few likes yesterday! I thought I was being sneaky, just working on revising and editing this rough draft that was part of a NaPoWriMo prompt almost three years ago! But even though I did not save the draft, somehow someone must have seen activity there. Either that or it’s a tremendous coincidence that it just got its first “like” while I was revising it. In any case, I made a comment about it, which drew more attention and now it has four likes.

Kind of embarrassing really, but this could also be educational for me. The reason I was revisiting the poem was because we were talking about ekphrastic poetry at our last Poetry Under the Paintings gathering. John Drury’s Poetry Dictionary defines ekphrastic poetry this way: “Poetry that imitates, describes, critiques, dramatizes, reflects upon, or otherwise responds to a work of nonliterary art, especially the visual.” My attempt was on Annie Leibovitz’s “Pocahontas,” pictured below.

You see, we meet at a gallery called Faustina’s in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and we read poems, our own as well as other favorites. Sometimes there is music, acoustic, keyboard or rhythm on the drums. But we had only one poet read poems about paintings so far, and I thought we should honor our atmosphere and host at this event for our April, National Poetry Month event.

So this poem came to mind and I thought I’d dig it up to read. Unfortunately, I felt it needed a lot of work and it wasn’t ready last week to be my example of ekphrasis. So here  below is the new version and here is the link to the original. Maybe I revised too much? Maybe you like the original better. Or perhaps you think the revision is a good one. Either way, since I am not as personally invested in this piece the way I might be about others, if you have time, why not share your thoughts in the comments. What works and why? What doesn’t and why not? I’d be truly honored if anyone were to choose to make commentary. Like I said, it could be a good learning experience, especially for me.

Jessica Beil as Pocahontas, as depicted by Annie Leibovitz
Jessica Beil as Pocahontas, as depicted by Annie Leibovitz

On Jessica Beil as Pocahontas

Life-sized Barbie-doll
with dark hair, and feet
just dirty enough to be sexy;
a confused young doe in tow.

This is not your grandmother’s
Pocahontas. Her hair in the wind,
I get that. Her skimpy clothes
made of animal skin, why not?

Jessica does Disney. You can’t
expect a proper history here.
Yet leaves falling are blurred,
as something is already

fading into the past, a way
of life, slipping away before
they even hit the ground.
The ship in the distance

carries Captain Smith, foretells
adventure, romance, death.
But is the deer fleeing something or
chasing her? Too calm to be

leaping from the fire with Bambi.
The Indian Princess, her face
vacant or confident, only
appears to heed the warning;

“Run! Return to the woods–
don’t let them find you.”
Perhaps the doe runs in hopes
of heading Barbie off, away from

a future penthouse, suits and shoes,
back to the medicine of berries and roots.
The clouds are dark in the foreground,
with ambiguous breaks of sky

beyond the boat. History runs
toward, or from desire.
A forest on fire craves rain;
A Lightning storm ignites a flame.

© 2013 by David J. Bauman

13 Comments Add yours

  1. slpmartin says:

    I rather like the second version…has a bit more satire in its tone.


    1. Thank you, sir. I was thinking along the same lines. I appreciate the feedback very much.


  2. vivinfrance says:

    I like the obvious ambivalence of your feelings towards the Pocahontas film. It is always worth re-visiting, revising older work. Fresh eyes see faults, sometimes as simple as a misplaced comma, or an overused word.


    1. Thanks for reading, Viv! I appreciate the feedback. 🙂


  3. angryricky says:

    I like both versions, though I must admit that my gut response to the photograph was, “Damn, she’s white!”

    From the earlier version, I like the phrase barbie doll dreams–while the later version is more specific, it took me a minute to think through “these are what barbie gets, as an adult”–the second one lacks the connotations of artificiality and immaturity, it feels less like hard plastic. I like the way the earlier version de-emphasizes John Smith, because the poem isn’t really about him (as the film shouldn’t have been). I like the ending of this early version.

    From the later version, I like the stronger emphasis on the way the photographer objectifies her, makes her sexy instead of a historically accurate fourteen-year-old. I also like the emphasis on desire at the end. So I like them both, for different reasons.

    My reading of the sky is that the artist envisions storms on land, where Pocahontas is, but sunshine over the boat at sea, as if John Smith and crew were bringing peace and enlightenment to the New World instead of violence and disease. I feel like this photo should have apples in it, somewhere.


    1. Your reading of the sky is what I was trying to imply as well, and then had the idea of juxtaposing Bambi’s forest fire with an impending storm. Who is saving whom here? I don’t know that I was at all successful in that.
      And thanks for the insights here! I really liked Barbie Doll dreams too, but felt it needed something specific. This is the problem I have with complete revisions. Things are gained, but things are lost.
      But then again, this was not my natural writing, another problem I have with poem-a-day poetry prompts. Sometimes they help you to crank out a bunch of rough drafts, yes, but they also end up being, how else do I say it? unnatural, so far from my natural muse that they rarely work later for me. I prefer the poems who come out of my own stirring of my imagination, and from ideas that started there, in my head or gut. Those poems usually end up better because they are not so much revised later as edited and polished.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to honor me with not one, but two explications! 🙂


    2. angryricky says:

      One of my undergrad profs was a Quaker, and they refer to the type of poem you’re talking about here as “found poems,” a term I like. You didn’t thrash the poem into being, you found it hiding in your head, like a baby rabbit.


    3. Interesting. By found poems these days they mean something entirely different, like stringing book titles or fortune cookies, or quotes from a newspaper together. But my best poems are almost always found poems of the sort your prof said. It sounds mystical, but I look for what is there, and as it comes out I follow it, see where it wants to go, and exercise seemingly little control about its outcome. Not that I don’t edit or polish, but it’s very different from a complete re-write.


  4. I like both versions though each achieves a different thing. All told I think I’ll pick the new one. It’s nice to see the comparison. And now I’m singing Neil Young, “aurora borealis…” Thanks!


    1. 🙂 Thank you, Sue for the feedback. If I ever decide to do anything with this poem, which I probably won’t since it was really just an exercise, I could consider a blend of the two. . . but really once changes start happening, there is only so much I can do. I enjoyed people looking into these. Thanks, all!


  5. Dear David J. Bauman,

    It is my great pleasure to nominate you for the “Very Inspiring Blogger Award”. You have surely earned this recognition, along with my great respect, mainly because of your wonderful writing that has truly inspired many all around the world. Please keep up your excellent work, and thanks for being around in the Blogosphere. You do make the difference.

    The rules are (as I understand) –

    1. Display The Very Inspiring Blogger Award logo on your blog. You can download it from

    2-Link back to the person who nominated you.

    3-State 7 things about yourself.

    4-Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link back to them.

    5-Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award requirements.




    1. Thank you, sir! I am terrible at these. If I can get my act together this week I will try to honor this, and in retrospect, honor the others passed on to me. Please do not feel insulted if I fail. :-/


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