“5 Cents a Peek”

The first time I read Sharon Olds’ poem “5 Cents a Peek”, I had no idea what to think of it or how to go about interpreting it!  Upon doing a little research, I found a really interesting short film that was made as an interpretation of the poem, in which parts of the poem are read throughout. The video itself was actually very haunting and strange. In the lines 14-16 of the poem, the narrator states that she wants to “go home” to that birthmother the bearded lady and her father the sword swallower. Both of these are what many people would consider to be “circus freaks” that make a living by shocking and intriguing people with odd things they have never seen before. It seems that the narrator identifies with this idea, as she states “I had tried hard to act normal but when the inspiration came I felt I was meant to act on it, to look at my mom with my gaze trimmed to a seer’s and see her see me for an instant, see her irises contract”.  I felt that the narrator desired to shock her mother, as she seemed very focused on the reaction that cutting off her eyelashes would get. In this way, she was similar to a circus performer that desired to shock an audience. At the end of the poem, after her eyelashes grew back, the narrator says that her mother taught her to “bat them”, which I interpreted as the mother teaching her daughter to act normal and ladylike, using her eyelashes to show other people that she is beautiful and feminine. This video focused on the idea of a circus and being watched and vulnerable in front of a crowd. I attached the link below if you’d like to watch it, but just a little disclaimer, there is some artistically done female nudity (nothing obscene or graphic, just a basic female figure like you would see in any other art piece), but if that offends you/makes you uncomfortable, please don’t click on the link! I really recommend it though, it helped me see the poem in a whole new light and inspired me to really dig in and attempt to understand it!

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