Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Arthur driving his wife home from a shopping trip - contempory notes

The following notes were written as commentary for the Jersey Arts Trust.

"This poem is based on a photograph of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller driving home in Arthur’s convertible showing Marilyn looking back at the camera while Miller is driving away from the photographer. What particularly caught my eye was the contrast between Marilyn’s smiling face next to the back of Millers head. Coupling this with our knowledge of Marilyn’s future life produced this poem.

I wrote this poem after a long spell of writers block, during which I produced little work of reasonable quality. It has turned into the first of a sequence of poems, mostly inspired by other photographs, but also contemporary writing, of Marilyn."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Arthur driving his wife home from a shopping trip

Arthur driving his wife home from a shopping trip

The face is unmistakable. Headscarf,
lacy trimmings on the shoulder strap
may give away the era, but lets be clear

it is the cupids bow, the cheekbones,
spreading into a Y,
the straight ridge of the nose
arched darkly pencilled eyebrows,
spreading into a Y,
mascara’ed eyes balancing the open mouth
caught as if in osculation
and the only-slightly-visible
creases across the brow
that makes her unmistakable,

a lady, still young, yet not so young
enjoying a time of happiness in her life of strain
her blond hair held in place by that scarf
but with one lock neatly whipping out of place
as the windscreen rips the air to shreds
past sunshades on the sporty car
driven by her husband,

Bespectacled and tousle-haired
Fag in his mouth in a so-cool style,
Obviously the modern intellectual,
Driving his trophy car
Ten years too young for him,
Driving his trophy wife…

No that is too cruel.
They are happily in love. Roslyn
lies in the future,
with the arguments on set,
the make-believe
the fall-apart
the birthday songs
the dying…

© Martin Porter 2004

This is the earliest of a sequence of poems based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. "Arthur drives his wife home after a shopping trip" won the second prize in the Jersey Evening Post writers' competition in 2004, and has had public readings at the awards ceremony at St James Centre, Jersey and for National Poetry Day the Bach in Whangarei, New Zealand.

The poem is based on a photograph I saw on the cover of the Sunday Times colour supplement. I had suffered a period of writers block and I used the monochrome image of Arthur Miller driving Marilyn Monroe in New York as a tool for creating a poem.

The poem initially appears to be a straight-forward description of Marilyn Monroe as a passenger in the car, but by the third stanza it is becoming increasingly value-laden, with the fourth stanza taking an even more cynical look at Arthur. The fifth stanza pulls the two together again, and pulls back from the brink of open criticism or pity, with its suggestion that happiness may be due to ignorance of future events.

The first four stanzas of this poem had a short gestation period and developed more or less as they were written. The fifth stanza was written at the same time but was subjectes to considerably more polishing, with research revealing that all was not well on the set of "the Misfits". (Although written as a vehicle for Marilyn by Arthur, their divorce occured less than a year after the film was made.) Perhaps the implication that this was a step on the ultimate path to disaster is unjustified, but this is a piece of creative writing based on history, not a catalogue of historical events.

For me, the poem brings up several issues that were not always intended, but which I developed as they became clearer as the ideas were written down. The tensions between age, sex, types of fame, beauty and brain give the work an uneasy feel and an implicit violence, as does the deliberate choice of verbs in the third stanza. I have tried to give the poem an ominous atmosphere of happiness before a time of disintegration and seperation - the halcyon day before the storm at night.

Remember the poem was written almost as an exercise to tackle writers block. Photographs and other images offer useful reference points, but I find they need to engage with my imagination to create real inspiration. Here, two major characters linked and yet very different have given me the impetus I needed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

a dripping tap - photograph reference

"a dripping tap" refers to Marilyn in New York. This is, in part, a reference to a photograph that can be found here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

a dripping tap

a dripping tap

Marilyn in New York

necking to almost wasp waisted thinness,
‘till it releases the elegant gem, splitting sunlight
into a blaze of red green blue gone
and impacts with ear jarring sound, leaps up again,
beautiful, as a spreading crown and
ebbs away.

The continual noise has awoken her, so
Marilyn moves to the faucet where
another drop has begun to swell. She watches
as it slowly builds from tiny pimple to
full grown boil, sees her own reflection in
its full grown curvature, looks
as the imaged phantom tumbles
into the sink.

She knows Arthur will return home soon and
the steady fall will be no longer hers.
In the shining chrome she sees herself reach forward,
her own distorted hand now hides her body,
and she withdraws to stare again, sighs, looks up
to see if she is there, still in control, still in the centre, and
the drop emerges, elongated…

© Martin Porter 2005

"a dripping tap" won the Jersey Arts Trust Channel Island Writers' Competition 2005 and is published in the Channel Island Writers' Anthology 2005.

"a dripping tap" was inspired by my fascination with the marriage of Marilyn Monroe to Arthur Miller. It incorporates elements of an earlier poem based on the observations of raindrops striking the windscreen of a car.

In the Judge's report, Linda Rose Parkes wrote "Ambition doesn't show itself in the choice of the subject; very often it's in the common, the everyday, where an exciting strangeness is lurking when we look more closely. But where the subject is large - say in the evocation of the grand emotions and those contexts - then the voice of the poem is circumspect and careful not to turn the volume up so loud that it's difficult for the reader to find the silence to listen and feel within its framework. Martin Porter chose a pedestrian image, a dripping tap in a well documented life, in order to offer a glimpse of an interior landscape in its loneliness and isolation."

"a dripping tap" is a poem that developed over a long period but took only a short time to sketch out. Polishing to produce the final product took place over a few weeks and was helped by my participation in an innominate group of writers in one of their monthly meetings. The earlier poem "Driving Rain" was written six years before in 1999, and "a dripping tap" is one of a sequence of poems based around the notion of Marilyn Monroe (rather than the reality), that I started writing in 2004. The earliest of that sequence "Arthur drives his wife home after a shopping trip" won the second prize in the Jersey Evening Post writers' competition in 2004.

It has been commented that some of the imagery in the poem is closely observed. The first stanza reflects this close observation, but not as consciously as might be imagined. Much of the imagery here may be unusual to note for many, but coming from a background based in the physical sciences, the formation and necking of a liquid drop, the crown splash caused by a drop of liquid falling into a shallow resevoir and the refraction of light into its component colours by a droplet are all familiar experiences, as are the distorted images in the convex chrome reflector of the taps or faucet.

Other observations that have been made are based around the notions of beauty and sexuality. The growth of the drop from tiny pimple to boil and the distortions of the reflections are deliberately juxtaposed onto this notion of beauty, illustrated by the wasp waisted thinness of the neck of the drop. There are also hints of an artificial, or assumed, beauty in adornment-based phrases including the crown, the jewel-like colours reflected from the drop which I hope would be associated with the expense of diamonds, reinforced by the "elegant gem" and the slightly more extended artificiality of the "shining" surface layer of chrome. There are hints of the fragility, or deception, of this beauty in the way the word "beautiful" is ambiguously linked with the phrase "ebbs away" by the use of punctuation - yes, the comma is deliberate, the phrase "imaged phantom" and the way the image is hidden by a hand.

What of those grand emotions? Perhaps we are all ordinary and all extraordinary in our own way. I have tried to convey a sense of ennui and dissatisfaction with fame and celebrity in this work. A dripping tap seemed to be a perfect illustration of how boredom due to repeated action strikes even the rich and famous.

Interestingly, and unexpectedly, I have found that the poem has created some of its own mystery. Although mentioned only briefly, I failed to realise the significance of the role Arthur Miller would play in the creation of an oppressive atmosphere hinted at in the poem.

In her judges report, Linda spoke of a "fierce respect for language". In this poem, the language has worked hard with single words often performing several tasks, phraseology having to shape an atmosphere and give structure to a piece that seems to have lost its beginning and end in a continuous cycle and the punctuation providing a framework despite having to be deliberately sparse.

This is a poem I return to time and time again. I assume it is one of the better poems I have written, but I cannot know that with any certainty. It isn't deliberately complex, but it ends up exploring some difficult concepts, challenging my notions of satisfaction, happiness, relationship and celebrity.