Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Marilyn Monroe by Gordon Wharton

Marilyn tucks into ‘Ulysses’

Caught up recently with My Week with Marilyn. (Michelle Williams excellent as Monroe, with Branagh hamming it up expertly as Olivier; all nicely evocative, but a thin script, and one doesn’t quite believe Colin Clark’s account anyway.) And then yesterday Marilyn, the Last Sessions in Channel 4’s True Stories slot, a pop-documentary focused on her relationship with analyst Ralph Greenson, based on the supposed John Miner transcriptions of Greenson’s tapes, and presumably related to the novel by Michel Schneider. Over long and predictable in some ways, but still horribly fascinating.

One is inclined to forget that Monroe, who had no college education, was a self-taught intellectual who read Milton, Flaubert, Freud, Joyce, Beckett and a whole ruck of modern poetry. She also jotted out her own poems – mostly amateurishly cathartic, but they sometimes hit the spot:

The smart one says the eye
is not truly round. His are,
though, fat with looking.

*   *   *

Help help
Help I feel life coming closer
When all I want to do is die.

All of which reminds me that in the late (and lamented) Gordon Wharton‘s 1957 collection Errors of Observation sits a rather fine (and surely anthologisable?) poem about Monroe that deserves to be better known. This is entirely about Marilyn as image, but none the worse for that. The notion of her as a landscape or continent is a nice conceit, and for me the last seven lines really do the business:

POEM FOR THE PHOTOGRAPH OF MISS MARILYN MONROE ON A CALENDAR FOR 1956

Not the geologist’s but geographer’s art
Would do you justice. The bland surveyor sees
Your landscape indolent upon his chart

And notes from hair to modelled Alpine knees,
No easy reference to the deciduous year,
Finds no Alaska where his glance might freeze.

A transcribed, ideal country meets him here
(Pink marks his most imperial possessions):
All exploration done, he need not fear

Barbarian hordes and frontier’s recessions.
In this art-paper’s even redolence
Contours lie captive to his moods’ accessions.

Whatever injury you do to sense
You are not subject to the real, appalling,
Seismic calamities; from the immense

Spaces dividing islands and their calling
In distant ears, you are rescued and dispose
Hygienic vistas. A gull’s feather falling
Arrested in nature’s most efficient pose.

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