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ANNA NICOLE: POEMS by Grace Cavalieri

Published by GOSS183::CASA MENENDEZ, © 2008. 
77 pgs. ISBN: 978-1434896087. Find it at: www.amazon.com

A Review by Judith Harris, PhD.


Anna Nicole is a great, funny, absurdist view of a world that has flattened itself to a two dimensional snapshot--along with one of its noted oddities of celebrity--Anna Nicole--who becomes the object of others' desires expressed by constant media attention. In a postmodern realm of literary value or non-value, Cavalieri performs a tour de force by creating a needed subjectivity for Anna as she is construed by the complexity of others' projections onto her as if she were a neutral screen. What results is hollowness and isolation:

She'd think everything revolved around her
the way children feel the world, or poets,
but she didn't know the name for poetry.
And when the sun received itself in the morning.
although it was too much to hope for...
she'd remember that everyone
loved her more than she loved them...
or she loved them more than
until the safety of loneliness reached out to her....

She sees the pink azalea outside. So pretty. That color.
So perfect. It must be fake.

Narrating Anna's life and her capacity to become the chameleon others want her to be including a blonde whore, beauty queen, sex goddess, gold digger, victim and martyr, the poet herself slowly identifies with the work of art that is the performative self and the psychological splitting that is endemic to that. Desire for nothing and everything permeates the book, and the irony of always wanting what one never can have reveals a poignant and dark destiny for both Anna Nicole and her creator, Cavalieri.

While Anna's self-destruction (like Robinson's Richard Cory) may suffice as a theme, Cavalieri is too much of a poet to be satisfied with this level alone. She explores artfully and uncannily the dominant notions about poetic subjects through history-- desire, love, Byronic ambition, egotism, nature, and death--all ambivalently held pursuits and as ambivalently gratified. Without a core to the self or a boundary to defend herself with, Anna is passed through an underworld of lures and frustrations finding no resolution to the paradox of her own existence; no cohesion, only endless mirages and reflections.

In the end, she absorbs the external definitions of happiness which only cause her more misery because they don't make her happy and the foundation collapses from within. What results is a kind of psychosis which Cavalieri brilliantly depicts as the collective psychosis of a culture that consumes and cheapens its gods by worshipping the wrong religion. For women particularly, the fusion of the madonna/whore personae is an entrapment and imprisonment, a final act that only suicide can perfect. Ironically, Anna Nicole survives her own suicide because she is already a legend and, like all good martyrs, more
valuable in death than living:

Postscript

The stage is a very small place.
It only covers our lives.

It was bound to happen to dear Anna
wearing her heart like a bowl

where people dropped offerings, a warm egg,
a polished stone, to watch a pink nipple opening.

Roads melted to a fold of rock
going in two directions, turning to mist

as the audience, poor seers, hemmed
coats for her ghost children.

This is a harrowing and beautifully composed epitaph that closes the life of Anna Nicole with a look into the grave where her audience continues to resurrect her for the purposes of destroying her over and over again. The parallels with Plath are unmistakable as Cavalieri weaves this legacy of our tragic and flawed human condition, one that only poetry can make meaningful and unmistakably beautiful again.


Judith Harris is the author of two books of poetry from LSU Press, Atonement and The Bad Secret, and a critical book from SUNY Press, Signifying Pain: Constructing and Healing the Self through Writing. Her work has been published by Slate, Tikkun, Ploughshares, The American Scholar, Southern Review, College English and the syndicated newspaper column, "American Life in Poetry."

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