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Poets Love Marilyn Monroe [by Heidi Seaborn]

Monroe reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marilyn Monroe not only loved poetry and poets, poets have reciprocated in writing Marilyn into poetry. While I may be the first to write an entire collection centered around Marilyn, in doing so I have entered into a long tradition of poets who have written poems devoted to or referencing the famous actress.

OharaMarilyn appears in passing in Frank O’Hara’s “To the Film Industry in Crisis” published in 1957, while Marilyn was still living, as “Marilyn Monroe in her little spike heels reeling through Niagara Falls” and more recently in Alex Dmitrov’s “LOVE” from his new collection LOVE and Other Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2020):

“And yes, I love that Marilyn Monroe requested Judy Garland’s “Over

the Rainbow” to be played at her funeral. And her casket was lined in

champagne satin. And Lee Strasberg ended his eulogy by saying, “I

cannot say goodbye. Marilyn never liked goodbyes, but in the peculiar way

she had of turning things around so that they faced reality, I will

say au revoir.”

 

In fact, it is Marilyn’s tragic death that poets have explored over and over. Here’s Edwin Morgan’s “The Death of Marilyn Monroe” from 1968, with her death as metaphor for America:

 

The Death of Marilyn Monroe

        By Edwin Morgan

What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?

Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,

white hearse, Los Angeles,

DiMaggio! Los Angeles! Miller! Los Angeles! America!

That Death should seem the only protector –

That all arms should have faded, and the great cameras and lights

become an inquisition and a torment –

That the many acquaintances, the autograph-hunters, the

inflexible directors, the drive-in admirers should become

a blur of incomprehension and pain –

That lonely Uncertainty should limp up, grinning, with

bewildering barbiturates, and watch her undress and lie

down and in her anguish

call for him! call for him to strengthen her with what could

only dissolve her! A method

of dying, we are shaken, we see it. Strasberg!

Los Angeles! Olivier! Los Angeles! Others die

and yet by this death we are a little shaken, we feel it, America.

Let no one say communication is a cantword.

They had to lift her hand from the bedside telephone.

But what she had not been able to say

perhaps she had said. ‘All I had was my life.

I have no regrets, because if I made

any mistakes, I was responsible.

There is now – and there is the future.

What has happened is behind. So

it follows you around? So what?’ – This

to a friend, ten days before.

And so she was responsible.

And if she was not responsible, not wholly responsible, Los Angeles?

Los Angeles? Will it follow you around? Will the slow

white hearse of the child of America follow you around?

 

Then in 1984, Sharon Olds writes a poem with the same title that appears in her collection from that year The Dead and the Living (Knopf, 1984).

 

The Death of Marilyn Monroe Olds

By Sharon Olds

The ambulance men touched her cold
body, lifted it, heavy as iron,
onto the stretcher, tried to close
the mouth, closed the eyes, tied the
arms to the side, moved a caught
strand of hair, as if it mattered,
saw the shape of her breasts, flattened by
gravity, under the sheet,
carried her, as if it were she,
down the steps.

These men were never the same. They went out
afterwards, as they always did,
for a drink or two, but they could not meet
each other's eyes.

Their lives took
a turn-one had nightmares, strange
pains, impotence, depression. One did not
like his work, his wife looked
different, his kids. Even death
seemed different to him-a place where she
would be waiting,

and one found himself standing at night
in the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a
woman breathing, just an ordinary
woman
breathing.

Marilyn’s death forever transforming the men, and the reader in Old’s poem. We cannot look away. In Frank Bidart’s 1996 poem, “Marilyn Monroe” that ran in The New Yorker, Marilyn becomes a vehicle for the idea and perhaps the impossibility of transformation.

 

Marilyn Monroe

by Frank Bidart

Because the pact beneath ordinary life (If you

give me enough money, you can continue to fuck me—) FrankBidart

induces in each person you have ever known

panic and envy before the abyss,

what you come from is craziness, what your

mother and her mother come from is

craziness, panic of the animal

smelling what you have in store for it.

Your father’s name, she said, is too

famous not to be hidden.

Kicking against the pricks,

she somehow injured her mind.

You are bitter all that releases

transformation in us is illusion.

Poor, you thought being rich

is utterly corrosive; and watched with envy.

Posing in the garden,

squinting into the sun.

 

Even nearly sixty years after her death, Marilyn continues to serve as poetic muse, metaphor and mirror. And there’s no end in sight. Brava Marilyn!


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