Thursday, March 18, 2010

Marilyn Monroe/Judy Grahn/Sylvia Plath

[I am thinking about Kate Durbin's book for a review I am writing, but I wanted to post some tangential ideas I've been having - about violence and consumption in art, about the body and some other stuff. Unfortunately I am incredibly low on available time, so I am going to pose these ideas incredibly incrementally. Part of this incremental process begane with Joyelle's manifesto that I posted yesterday. I will also refer to Kate Durbin essay about teenage girl possession and Kate Zambreno's blogposts about female violence and consumption as artistic reception, and maybe Max Ernst's "The Hundred Headless Woman" (which Lars von Trier would naturally remake as "Hundred Headless Women"); basically some thoughts I had as I was thinking what to write in a review of Kate's book, Ravenous Audience. I thought I would post this poem by Judy Grahn first. In part I started thinking about this poem's relationship to Kate's book because Kate has poems about Monroe, and in part because it seems to me a revision of Plath's "Lady Lazarus":]

I Have Come to Claim Marilyn Monroe's Body
By Judy Grahn (published in 1970)

I have come to claim Marilyn Monroe’s body
for the sake of my own
dig it up
hand it over
cram it in this paper sack
hubba hubba hubba
Look at those luscious long brown bones
that wide and crusty pelvis
ha ha oh she wanted so much to be serious

but she’ll never stop smiling now
has she lost her mind

Marilyn be serious - they’re taking
your picture, and they’re taking the pictures
of eight young women in New York City
who murdered themselves for being pretty
by the same method as you the very
next day after you!
I have claimed their bodies too,
they smile up out of my paper sack
like brainless Cinderellas.

the reporters are furious, they are asking
me questions
what right does a woman have
to Marilyn Monroe’s body? and what
am I doing for lunch? They think I
mean to eat you. Their teeth are lurid
and they want to pose me, leaning
on the shovel, nude. Dont squint.
But when one of the reporters comes too close
I beat him, bust his camera
with your long smooth thigh
and with your lovely knuckle bone
I break his eye.

Long ago you wanted to write poems
Be serious, Marilyn
I am going to take you in this paper sack
around the world, and
write on it: —the poems of Marilyn Monroe—
Dedicated to all princes,
the male poets who were so sorry to see you go,
before they had a crack at you.
They wept for you
and also they wanted to stuff you while
you still had a little meat left
in useful places
but they were too slow.

Now I shall take them my paper sack
and we shall act out a poem together:
“How would you like to see Marilyn Monroe,
in action, smiling, and without her clothes?”
We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces
and then I shall beat them with your skull.
hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba.
Marilyn be serious
today I have come to claim your body for my own.


This seems to be a pretty overt revision of Plath's "Lady Lazarus. But instead of being dug up by doctors (artists), Grahn's speaker is the one who digs up the Lady-Lazarus-like Marilyn Monroe. In Grahn's poem the poet takes Plath's internalized violence and relationship to looking/images of feminity and strikes back, literally, using Monroe's oogled corpse to physically hit the cameramen, those purveyors of voyeuristic images. (Though I can't help but feel that she's not just violent against the cameramen but also against the corpse.).

The references to Lady Lazarus are pretty obvious: the paper sack, the smiling woman (being made into an image), the connection between image and death, the image-woman being dug out of the grave, the hospital reference, the use of off-language ("hubba hubba").

Something that brings all of these texts together seems to be the idea of consumption, and more specifically the relationship of images (Art) and consumption, and the relationship of consumption to death, and the relationship of possession to death.

In Plath, we've got the "peanut-crunching crowd" who "shoves in" to see the "striptease" of the "smiling woman"; and I could never read that without hearing "bone-crunching crowd" - the audience is eating Lady Lazarus. They are a "ravenous audience" to bring in Kate D's book title. But of course, in the end, she will rise up like a ghost and "eat men like air."

In Grahn's poem, the cameramen are nervous that the speaker is going to "eat" Marilyn Monroe; but at the same time it's the cameramen's teeth that are "lurid," suggesting they are going to consume the speaker by photographing her. If this poem was totally simplistic, she would just resist this, but she recognizes some of the power and does post with a shovel, like a fashion shoot (of a necrophiliac!). It's only when the cameramen get too close, that she beats them up. And when she does beat them up - in a very B-movie act of ultra-violence - she uses the image, the icon of Monroe's body to do so. Further more, why does she *really* want to do with Monroe's body? What does it mean to "claim" it? It seems the cameramen are perhaps to some degree correct: perhaps she is consuming it.

Both Plath's and Grahn's poems engage with the dynamics of the image/possession/looking: the image/art is used to disempower/kill but also to empower(but not in a cheesy feel-good way; empower through death and violence, through visual fascination). A lot of literature seem anxious about thinking about reading as consuming, we want to maintain a sensible distance. Both of these poems seem to both critique aesthetification and realize the power of art that is consumed, that consumes - and we're back to expenditure, dead women and Joyelle's manifesto (see below). And of course we're back to ghosts and B-movies and being haunted and EA Poe.

More later.


Blogger Danielle said...

Oh, I've never seen that Grahn poem before! Thanks! love it.

When I read Joyce Carol Oates's Blonde, and granted this was about 10 years ago, I adored it for its complete invasion and cooption of Marilyn, and for its constant preoccupation with the urinary tract.


2:14 PM  
Blogger BobbyB2316 said...

I have a question, and hopefully you can help me out. I've seen posts about Lady Gaga on here before, in her song Dance in the Dark, the lyrics specifically say, "Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia... Tell em' how you feel girls!"
This article and those lyrics seem like too much of a coincidence. How can this be? What is your inspiration behind this post?
On a side not, do you think any of Marilyn's poetry, unpublished but being released this fall, fits in to this as well. If not her poetry, maybe her lyrics?
I look forward to your response.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I don't know this Lady Gaga song, but I would guess it has to do with Plath, Monroe and Judy Garland. I didn't know about Marilyn Monroe's poetry, I'll be interested to read it. Thanks for the comment.

10:43 AM  

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