Ally Sheedy's confessional poetry
Ally Sheedy has tucked herself away in a dim corner of an oceanside restaurant in Malibu, as if to avoid the scrutiny that has dogged her ever since she came early to Hollywood fame. She isn’t wearing makeup, she’s puffing cigarette after cigarette, and she’s apologizing that the smoking clashes with her hard-won freedom from drug dependency. And now her first book of poems, Yesterday I Saw the Sun, has become a cause for further hiding. Just before the book’s publication last month, a New York Post gossip item ridiculed her as a poetaster, contributing to her latest headache. ”Ally Sheedy from bad to verse,” chortled the headline on the item, which went on to describe her bulimia and her drug problem. Stunned by the criticism, Sheedy forced herself to go ahead with a poetry reading the night the article appeared — but that backfired too. Afterward, a reporter swooped in on her. ”Why did you write this?” he demanded.
”Basically,” Sheedy says, ”I thought he was trying to say, ‘What were you trying to do, make some money off of …”’ She lifts her hands, then lets them drop in frustration. ”I don’t know. It just really threw me.”
Sheedy at 28 has known a degree of fame for 20 years and has been thrown by it much of the time. She began dancing with the American Ballet Theater at the age of 8. She published a children’s book, She Was Nice to Mice, when she was 12. She did TV commercials in high school, and by 18 she had saved enough to leave home for L.A. At 23 she took on the beast of national fame in such hit movies as The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire.
Her early success cast long shadows. She had recurrent bouts of bulimia. She had an abortion at 16. She was addicted to drugs and contemplated suicide. In 1989, a group of friends led by Demi Moore handed her an airplane ticket to the famous Hazelden Foundation rehab clinic in Minnesota. There Sheedy learned to rely on her poetry as a way of understanding her turbulent emotions.
”If I’d written any kind of book thinking, ‘I’m writing this to get published,’ it would not have been honest. But I didn’t. I wrote those [poems] because I needed to write them. I didn’t really think beyond helping people. Now I think maybe it was stupid and I should have.”
Since she didn’t, it might seem that someone close to her would have warned her about the scrutiny she could expect from a book of confessional poems with her famous face splashed on the cover. But no one did. Her mother, literary agent Charlotte Sheedy, gave the poems to Jim Silberman, the head of Summit Books, and Silberman asked to publish them. ”I thought about it for a long time, but I trust him,” Ally says. ”Mainly, he got exactly what I was doing when he said, ‘There are people who don’t have the words for it, but who are doing the same thing. They’ll get a lot from the book.”’
Her mother shrugs off the critical reaction that has wounded her daughter: ”I have 250 clients,” Charlotte Sheedy says. ”She’s just one of 250. And I say to her exactly what I say to every other client: ‘You write because you want to. Publishing was a decision you made. And people who respond to it have a right to their own opinion…’ I guess you think that’s not very sympathetic, but that is my attitude.”
In the end, Ally Sheedy showed the resilience that has kept her afloat before. To prepare for the press she enrolled in a workshop on dealing with hostile questions. And while traveling across the country to promote the book, she was buoyed by women who thanked her for her openness. ”The whole strength of the book,” she says, ”is that it’s about recovery.”