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yesterday i saw the sun

review by rob gonsalves


Ally Sheedy


Simon & Schuster
January 1991
140 pages


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 ... uh ...

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 overwrought diary.

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.



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