In comparing and contrasting the poems "The One Girl at the Boys Party" by Sharon Olds and Garrett Hongo's "The Hongo Store/29 Miles Volcano/Hilo, Hawaii," one notices immediately that both works treat the subject of childhood. In so doing, each poem approaches the subject from a different perspective in terms of technique. The figures of speech, voice, symbols and so forth are put together in each poem to make effects that have dissimilar goals. At the same time, both poems treat childhood through the filter of memory. In the study that follows, Olds' and Hongo's differing poetic treatments of childhood will be dissected - and found to present a coherent sense of that experience and the memory of it.
Childhood in both poems is treated in terms of remembered youth - and the memory only takes on meaning when pieced together and viewed from a distance. Poetry shares the visual quality of childhood memories. Both poems take an experience and break down the moment into words and sounds, realities and metaphors. These poems "bend" memory to fit their own specific needs. It is a technique-based, almost "scientific" dissection - but, still, the success of these two poems draws 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 presentation of teenage sexuality in 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.
This poem "remembers" something about being a teenager that most of us forget: the environment of a teenager's life is the rhythm-and-response of school. Physical urges of an animal nature are not gone - the boys "tower and bristle," the girl is "smooth and sleek" - but the musk these teenagers respo...