887: Where are the girls who were so beautiful? from “33”

887: Where are the girls who were so beautiful? from “33”

887: Where are the girls who were so beautiful? from “33”

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Jason Schneiderman.


I‘m Jason Schneiderman and this is The Slowdown.

My attention is obsessive. I would rather watch the same movie over and over again than watch every movie by a particular director or actor. I would rather read the same poem over and over again, than work my way slowly through an author’s complete works. In my youth art was inextricably linked to objects. Music meant a vinyl record or a cassette tape or a CD in a jewel case. Photographs required cameras of varying sizes, and rolls of film, and photo albums or carousels of slides. Those objects were talismans, a kind of sacred representation of who one was.

One of the most important objects that carried art into my life wasn’t even my own. When I was in middle school, I found a VHS tape of the movie Cabaret in a local library, and I was obsessed. I lost track of how many times I had watched the film. I made my own soundtrack by holding a cassette recorder up to the television speaker and recording all of the songs.

The film stars Liza Minnelli as a cabaret performer who is as talented a singer as she is a disaster as a person. As a bit of a self-proclaimed disaster, I loved the idea that talent might redeem an irredeemable life. I loved the idea that talent is a kind of force, one that makes its own demands on the person with the talent. Liza’s larger-than-life screen presence gave me permission to put art at the center of my life. Of course, this means that the size of one’s passion often matches the size of one’s suffering.

Today’s poem is a sonnet from Julia Alvarez’s sonnet sequence 33. While Alvarez is perhaps better known as a novelist, I have returned to her poems obsessively, cherishing the way they are warm and clever at the same time. Lately, I’ve heard many bemoan the end of movie stardom, but it’s comforting to remember that it’s an old argument. Three decades ago, when this poem was written, we were already wondering what had happened to the glamor and melodrama of 1950’s Hollywood and Hollywood stardom that we were sure had so much to teach us. The poem makes reference to Natalie Wood, who died in a boating accident in 1981, as well as a series of Hollywood stars that I’ll leave it to you to recognize or Google. And maybe that recognition and discovery is the core of the glamor and melodrama itself.

from “33”
by Julia Alvarez

		      “Where are the girls who were so beautiful?”

Where are the girls who were so beautiful?
I don’t mean back in the olden days either,
I mean yesterday and the day before
yesterday? Tell me, if you can, where will
I find breathless Vivien or Marilyn,
her skirt blown up? Certainly Natalie,
struggling in the cold waves, deserved to be
fished out when the crew finished and given
her monogrammed beach towel and a hot drink.
How many times didn’t we pay good money
to see them saved from worse catastrophes
as they trembled in swimsuits on the brink
of death, Rita and Jean, Lana and Joan,
Frances, Marlene—their names sound like our own.

“Where are the girls who were so beautiful?” from “33” by Julia Alvarez from HOMECOMING: NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS, © 1996 Julia Alvarez. Used by permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, Lamy, NM. All rights reserved.