I just came back from NYC where I heard the first draft reading of my play “Anna Nicole,” a reading by professional actor s with the Xoregos Performing Company. This was just for the purpose of rewriting and is the only way I know to see what moves forward, who loses character, all those issues that you never get when you’re rereading your own type font over and over. 150 answered the casting call. There are no lack of big blondes in New York.
I’m writing today to answer the question that always comes up: “Why her?” The question surprised me initially. It started coming at me after my book of poems came out, Anna Ni cole: poems (Goss 183:: Casa Menendez, 2008.) My good friend, Merrill Leffler , had it on his coffee table. Another literate person, house guest, picked it up and said “Why her?” and dismissed it out of hand. I started to see that this had no audience but the closest of my bosom buddies. The glitterati did not think it seriously worthy. Even my girlfriends from Trenton High who support everything I do, did not want it. Actually that was understandable: 1) they do not read poetry 2) this does not qualify as poetry to them. Forget the Trenton High crowd.
My affection (obsession) started while watching trash TV. What I saw was that Anna had less of a network than any other celebrity of tragic proportions. Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Jayne Mansfield all/each had more dependable people close at hand. Anna, growing up, had no love, no education, no philosophical underpinning, no self knowledge, and no way to order experience. As an adult, she was fed pills and propped up. Her life was epic, certainly as any Greek tragedy or Italian opera. Did you see her in the hospital bed after she had given birth to her baby girl? The cheekbones.? Without the makeup? -- the beauty, the vulnerability, fragility, all evident.
Last month she was in the news again, while they indicted the pill merchants. I kept looking at her on TV and feeling that what we saw was fiction and that my imagined stories of her were emotionally factual. Her wonderment, confusion, blandishments, plus a bad case of body custody. Sometimes I exhausted myself worrying about her. I keep remembering Sterling Brown in a poem talking about Ma Rainey, “She jes got ahold a me somekindaway.” Anna just gets ahold of me somekindaway.
Critic Geoff Himes talks about trying to give consciousness where there is none. That’s a pretty interesting observation. Another aspect of writing Anna is to understand that to be manipulated you have to be manipulative as well. It’s a shuttlecock, one pundit says, like so many other human tricks, like fame itself that has to be kept up at both ends. My basic research was to ask people what they remembered about Anna. Overwhelmingly, the answers boiled down to 5 slags on the heap: she was a model, she married the old rich guy, she had a son, she gave birth to a baby girl, she died of an overdose.
But fiction and poetry are not naturalism. (Well I did get one order from a porno collector so some are still trying.) We can’t cast a value and judgment on Anna Nicole’s real life and apply it to Anna Nicole’s imagined life. A bad algorithm. So If you try to take apart my song, all you’ll get is what you break. (However ,this may be the only book of poetry in A porno collection so that’s something.)
Who isn’t interested in “FAME?” But why are we all so interested? Maybe because the root word for HUNGER is FAMA (Latin.). The answer to the vexed question “Why Her” is a desire to understand aspects and consequences of Hunger. Some people are unequal to their hunger. Even some smart people. So really, Anna Nicole is alarmingly not all that unique. Here is a poem of Hafiz.
After a hard day's forage
Two bears sat together in silence
On a beautiful vista
Watching the sun go down
And feeling deeply grateful
Though, after a while
A thought-provoking conversation began
Which turned to the topic of
The one bear said,
"Did you hear about Rustam?
He has become famous
And travels from city to city
In a golden cage;
He performs to hundreds of people
Who laugh and applaud
The other bear thought for
A few seconds
- - Hafiz
(The Gift - versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky)
Portrait by Holly Picano-Rogers
And here is a photo from my friend Dan Murano: