Simon & Schuster
Buy the hardcover at bn.com
|Many of us recall with
fondness the defining role of Ally Sheedy, whatever other shit
she did later: the black-clad misfit Allison in The Breakfast
Club, who makes snow for her drawing by shaking her dandruff
onto it. Allison/Ally was a precursor of Winona Ryder's Lydia
in Beetlejuice, Christina Ricci's Wednesday Addams, and
Fairuza Balk's Nancy in The
Craft -- goth grrrls swimming in their own post-punk
gloom. Maybe Linda Manz was there first in Dennis Hopper's Out
of the Blue, but Sheedy introduced the type to a wide audience
and made it funny and accessible. (Then John Hughes went overboard
and made her too accessible -- remember that awful scene
where Molly Ringwald makes her over, and she comes out looking
neat and wholesome and "pretty" for Emilio Estevez?
Eccch. I hate that.)
Since then, Sheedy has been through the standard Brat Pack inferno
of bad movies (Betsy's Wedding, Man's Best Friend, Short Circuit),
bulimia, and rehab. Her performance as a heroin-addicted photographer
in the upcoming High Art has sparked considerable comeback
buzz at Sundance. A legendarily troubled woman poised on the
brink of career resurrection -- all the more excuse to take a
look at Yesterday I Saw the Sun, Sheedy's collection of
poetry from 1991. What inner demons did Sheedy spew onto the
page, what Plathian cries of anguish?
Um, I'll get back to you on that. The only reason I even heard
of this book is that someone donated four copies -- not one,
but four -- to my library. After she stopped laughing
at the poems, our assistant director dumped all four copies on
our book-sale cart. I snagged one. The other three copies, I
presume, now inhabit the Island of Misfit Books -- my euphemism
for the trash dump, the sad final resting place of books we don't
want in the collection and nobody wants to buy. (The book is
out of print and may, for all I know, be a collector's item among
die-hard Ally fans.) I took my copy home and read it, and ...
Look: We critics don't enjoy being mean (not all the time, anyway).
We genuinely dislike having to tell the sad truth about a substandard
work by someone of whose previous work we have been fond. We
especially hate slamming someone for trying something different
or something outside his/her usual field. Sheedy is a good actress
and who cares if her poetry sucks ass? Well, legitimate poets
who remain unpublished because their resumés include comparatively
few John Hughes films -- they might care just a smidgen. So might
readers who care about poetry.
Yesterday I Saw the Sun comes described as Sheedy's therapeutic
odyssey, her way of staying sane by venting her anger and depression.
This is fine. I applaud it. As long as it stays in Sheedy's private
journals where it belongs. There was no real reason for this
to see publication, other than Sheedy's fading stardom. The poems
(there are fifty) are united by their painful candor, clunky
rhythm, banal imagery, and overall resemblance to a teenage girl's
Space limitations and a twinge of sympathy for the poet confine
me to the tip of the iceberg of bad poetry herein: "I expand/
Dissolving into black horizons/ into my inside sky/ Diving into
freezing depths/ into my inside sea." "Dark wound in
my heart/ surrounded by the pink flesh of/ healing transformation..."
Some of it actually is okay: "There are nurses who, like
creases in a sheet, smooth me into flattened sleep" -- which
is ungrammatical, but let's not quibble.
This wasn't Sheedy's first time out as a poet. At age twelve,
she published a book called She Was Nice to Mice, and
Yesterday I Saw the Sun kicks off with a poem written
in 1976 -- which is simpler, clearer, and more evocative than
Sheedy's 1988 rewrite of it on the following page. As a reflection
of a disordered, drug-addicted/drug-rehabbing mind, the book
is interesting. But real poetry requires some degree of detachment
and discipline, and that's what Sheedy's work doesn't have --
or didn't have in 1991.
Perhaps now that she's seven years sober (or so I hope), Sheedy's
head will be clearer, her perceptions sharper, her writing leaner
and subtler. But until a future collection proves me wrong, Sheedy
should stick to the medium in which she can convey more inner
life with a glance or a dandruffy shake of the head than she
does in 140 pages here.