Childhood is a mosaic of experiences - at least in terms of remembered youth. The mosaic only takes on meaning when pieced together and viewed from a distance. Very few people can actually witness their past from a distance, however, so the personality of youth often remains one of specifics seen only at the angle of remembrance. For this reason poetry is the ideal creative medium for attempts to express the childhood experience. Poetry shares the visual quality of childhood memories. The poet takes an experience and breaks down the moment into words and sounds, realities and metaphors. The poem bends memory. It is a technique-based, almost "scientific" dissection - but, still, the successful poem pricks from the observer an appreciative recognition.
In "The One Girl at the Boys Party," Sharon Olds' 1983 poem on her teenage daughter's coming-of-age, the recognition comes from the juxtaposition of pubescent sexuality into both physical and mathematical terms.
When I take my girl to the swimming party
I set her down among the boys. They tower and
bristle, she stands there smooth and sleek,
her math scores unfolding in the air around her.
Olds remembers something about being a teenager that most non-poets forget: the environment of their lives is the rhythm-and-response of school. Physicality of the animal sort is not gone - the boys "tower and bristle," her daughter is "smooth and sleek" - but the perfume these teenagers respond to is the scent of numbers, grades and
Here is where the poet's fragmentation of experience allows her to present the non-poet observer with an opened window into their own experiences of youth. The majority of persons will remember the high school classroom, math class in particular, for its dullness, a dullness punctuated only occasionally by the sudden tension of a pop quiz or long-feared examination. Math is the ultimate high school symbol for academic accomplishment: ...