Sharon Olds’s poem Demonstrations Day is a free verse narrative that does not follow a particular rhythm of rhyme scheme structure. The free verse poem is long and does not contain sporadic rhymes but conveys powerful ideas and feelings as a demonstration poem. Precisely, Olds writes the poem to confront issues and make a stand against injustices that occur in American society. 

Demonstrations Day is a direct criticism of American society and government over various issues, including racial injustice. Olds is known for poems that explore topics and themes that affect society including age, sexual politics, and gender, among others prevalent in society. The work is, therefore a protest poem that confronts racially-motivated violence against African Americans.

A demonstration poem is any form of poem that has one of its main functions as the goal of finding fault with some existing circumstance or current event. Similarly, Olds’ poem focuses on the misdeeds the government performs upon its subjects as well as a reaction to an overriding societal problem. In this case, race seems to be a prevalent issue in Olds’ poem. In line 1, Olds writes, “an indictment down (“I Can’t Breathe”), and for a… (2).

The words ‘I can’t breathe’ are a protest slogan associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. The phrase originated from Eric Garner’s last words and featured in George Floyd’s last moments. Both individuals were unarmed black men killed after being put in a chokehold by police officers. Police brutality is a prevalent issue in the United States that has attracted global attention and much attention from artists, including poets. For this reason, Demonstrations Day qualifies as a protest poem and a reaction to racism as a societal ill.

Furthermore, the poem combines the quality that creates an excellent protest poem with a genuine passion for the subject matter. The poet uses the combination to stimulate the empathy and interest of the reader as well as to spur the audience into action. The poet states,

The falcons

who hunt above the roofs in Lower Manhattan

might be the descendants of the falcons who were hunting and

eating that morning, tearing the fur and

feathers in chunks and dust off their prey (11-15).

Olds calls for action from the reader by emphasizing the role citizens play in perpetuating social ills. The falcons in this poem symbolize the country’s leadership that does little to change the situation. Olds confronts the electorate for recycling the same breed of leaders who always put the interests and demands of those who fund their campaigns before those of the voters. The use of wealth to influence political outcomes is commonplace in American society and hence plays a role in perpetuating social injustices like racism and inequality.

Sharon Olds’ “Late Poem to My Father”: Summary & Analysis

Despite this knowledge, voters still elect politicians into office, thus putting people into office who are less interested in creating policies to address social injustices but are the puppets of their financiers. In this poem, Olds confronts the public for playing a role in continuing social justice indirectly. As such, the poem can be considered a call to action urging the electorate to break the norm and elect better leaders with the country’s best interest at heart. According to the poem, the electorate has the power to put into power individuals who will commit fully to eliminating social injustices.

Poets have various functions in mind while writing a poem. A poet may express frustrations, mourn a loved one, or describe a scene. While topics may change depending on a poem, every work has at its core something that engages readers or listeners in a manner that only poetry can. Protest poetry sets out different stylistic tools at a poet’s disposal including meter, metaphor, vivid language, and rhyme, among others, to address current issues and expose flaws in social systems.

On Demonstration Day, Olds utilizes various tools to address social issues. Symbolism in the poem is used to represent something beyond the literal meaning. For example, the falcons do not represent the cosmopolitan bird of prey but rather the self-centered politicians voters elect into office. Falcons, therefore, symbolize the same breed of politician elected but fail to create effective policies that address social injustices that have plagued American society for years. The poet also utilizes comparison to where she compares two critical events in United States history to show the magnitude of the issues she addresses. She writes,

…the story of this country is being told again,

On the street corners, the story of destruction,

Of race, and rage, the law choppers and the

News choppers are chopping (28-31).

The poet compares police brutality to the 9/11 attack, especially the global attention both events attract and the negative light in which they present the country.

Sharon Olds’ “Late Poem to My Father”: Summary & Analysis

Olds also applies sarcasm, using irony to mock characters or convey contempt. Olds states, “The law and news choppers are chopping (30). Law enforcement is among the systems in the United States that maintain social injustices as evidenced in the recent killings of unarmed black men. Instead of referring to law enforcement personnel as officers, Olds refers to them as law choppers for failing to play their role in protecting life and maintaining law and order.

The News choppers Olds refers to are media houses, and she probably calls them out for failing to play their role in the coverage of these social injustices. Therefore, Olds utilizes different stylistic devices to confront the social issues currently plaguing American society.

In most cases, protest poetry is created to dissatisfaction with a regime or government. Protest poems need to be thoroughly objective, hence can be used to show the actions of the government or certain systems in a negative light. Olds maximizes her poem to show her dissatisfaction with the country’s leadership, law enforcement, voters, and media and the role each plays in maintaining social injustices.

The poem was written at a time of great social unrest, to encourage readers to reflect on issues affecting society, the role of each person perpetuating them, and to urge people to take necessary steps to end these social injustices.

In conclusion, Demonstration Day by Sharon Olds is a protest poem addressing American society’s social ills. The poet compares racially-based police brutality to the 9/11 attack to show the magnitude of the problem and depict how it paints a negative image at a global level. The poet uses various poetic devices, including comparison, sarcasm, and symbolism, to intensify the mood, enhance the poem’s meaning, and piece the poem together. Overall, Olds manages to create a poem that creates awareness and adequately confronts a significant problem plaguing the country.

Work Cited

Olds, Sharon. “Day of Demonstrations.” (2023): 61-61.

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