Throughout this piece, Olds makes use of interesting examples of imagery. These make the young girl, the speaker’s daughter, feel different and special. She’s stronger and more present than the boys are. This is emphasized by the return, again and again, to math-related language in ‘The One Girl at the Boys Party.’
Explore The One Girl at the Boys Party
‘The One Girl at the Boys Party’ by Sharon Olds is a powerful poem about a young girl who attends a boy’s party.
The speaker describes bringing her daughter there and watching her stand out, positively, from the boys. She has a strength and intellect that they don’t have, and the speaker can see it radiating off of her as she swims and observes the other children. She does math equations in her head, noting who the boys are and how they act. The poem ends with the speaker describing the beauty and power of the moment, despite her daughter being quite young.
You can read the full poem here.
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,
bouncing in her mind like molecules of chlorine
in the bright blue pool. When they climb out,
In the first lines of ‘The One Girl at the Boys Party,’ the speaker begins by describing the setting and what she was doing with her daughter. She took her to a boy’s part and “set her down among the boys.” There is no discussion of whether a girl belongs there. The speaker knows her daughter has just as much right to be there as any of the boys.
At first, it seems as though this might be an intimidating environment for a young girl. But, it’s soon revealed that the speaker’s daughter isn’t afraid of the boys. She’s strong and “indivisible as a prime number.” There’s nothing any of the boys could do to make her feel less. That is because she is more in every way. She’s more beautiful, stronger, and far smarter. Her “math scores unfold…in the air around her” as she observes the scene.
She looks around and calculates, divides, and the numbers bounce around in her head “like molecules of chlorine / in the bright blue pool.”
her ponytail will hang its pencil lead
down her back, her narrow silk suit
with hamburgers and french fries printed on it
wild multiplying, as the drops
sparkle and fall to the power of a thousand from her body.
The boys play in the water and climb out. The speaker’s daughter wears her bathing suit covered with “hamburgers and French fries” and glistens in the “brilliant air.” It’s clear through these descriptions that the speaker sees a power in her daughter that sets her apart differently from these boys. She has strength and dignity that the boys around her don’t. She can break them down into their parts and analyze them, figuring out the world as a child, “wild multiplying” and sparkling as water falls “to the power of a thousand from her body.” This striking final image ends the poem on a powerful note.
Structure and Form
‘The One Girl at the Boys Party’ by Sharon Olds is a twenty-two-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are visually similar, but the number of syllables varies throughout. Despite this, readers may find several examples of half-rhyme in this poem. Olds also makes use of numerous literary devices, many of which work to create a feeling of unity within the text.
Olds makes use of several literary devices in ‘The One Girl at the Boys Party.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “stand” and “smooth” and “sleek” in line three and “bright blue” in line eleven.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six.
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of text. This can be done through a natural pause in the meter or through the use of punctuation. For example, “I set her down among the boys. They tower and” and “in the bright blue pool. When they climb out.”
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially vibrant and interesting descriptions. For example, the last lines which read: “wild multiplying, as the drops / sparkle and fall to the power of a thousand from her body.”
Olds wrote this poem in order to celebrate the power of being a girl in a boy’s world. The speaker sees her daughter in an incredibly favorable light as she demonstrates her brilliance among the boys at the party.
The meaning is that there is strength in being a girl, even when everyone else is a boy. The speaker’s daughter has everything. She’s strong, smart, powerful, and beautiful. These features radiate from her as she stands among boys who seem far simpler.
The tone is reverential and proud. The speaker looks on as her daughter deals with being the only girl at a boy’s swimming pool party. She’s clearly proud of her daughter’s strength and wants to celebrate it.
The themes are strength, power, and social norms. The daughter holds a powerful position in this poem. Her role as the only girl could make her feel different and weak, but instead, it elevates her and gives her strength.
The speaker is a mother who has brought her daughter to a boys’ swim party. She knows her daughter’s strength and isn’t at all worried about her fitting in or being afraid of the boys.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The One Girl at the Boys Party’ should consider reading other Sharon Olds poems. For example:
- ‘Her First Week’ – reveals both sides of motherhood and the many facets of feeling and emotions that come along with having a baby.
- ‘Sex Without Love’ – asks the reader to consider the implications of relationships based on sex rather than emotional love.
- ‘The Flurry’ – focuses on a couple planning how they will tell their children of their divorce. The poem explores the end of love, relationships coming to an end, and how that can impact people.