Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Girlfriend” is a poem about memory. The speaker is committed to exploring the past and examining how his past actions are revised by his memory. This speaker does not express a desire to change any of the details of this drama about the loss of virginity. Instead, he hopes to come to an understanding of how this one small incident from the past helps make him the person that he is today. Therefore, the work of a poetic project such as this is never finished; it is ongoing because any one person’s life has too much complexity to be resolved in one poem. In many of Shapiro’s poems, past interacts with present as he engages in his quest to understand all the complex factors that have contributed to his becoming the person that he is today. Thus, the drama that the speaker in “Girlfriend” reveals is more than an anecdotal remembrance of something that once took place. It takes on a dimension of heroic proportions when one recognizes that the adult speaker is wrestling with all of his personal history.

There is also an instructive quality to such a confession. Without telling its readers that similar explorations are necessary in order to understand all the history that goes into the creation of each person’s self, it displays a person engaged in such exploration. Readers will realize that if they are to understand themselves they must also engage in a similar exploration of their past experiences and actions. One’s whole life is constantly...

(The entire section is 497 words.)