Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media
Scene4 Magazine-inSight

may 2008

Anna Nicole: Innocence is a Return, Not a Point of Departure

When I was growing up, my father let me skip my homework if he wanted me to see something on TV. 

One night, we watched as the news showed pictures of Marilyn Monroe on the night that she died.  “Take a good look at her {Monroe},” my Dad said, “Marilyn was beautiful!”  But he told me, “ You wouldn’t want her life.  We lusted for her; but didn’t care about her heart or her soul.”

At the time, just before I turned nine, I understood little of what my father said.  The next day, everyone whispered in a tone not meant for kids to hear, she overdosed on drugs and maybe it was a suicide.

I remembered my childhood talk with my Dad about Marilyn when Anne Nicole Smith died at age 39 in a South Florida hotel in February 2007.  Reading her obit in the New York Times, I thought about what I’d heard of the life of Anna Nicole, who the Times said “was famous, above all, for being famous.” 

We’d all heard about Anna Nicole’s struggle with drugs, rehab, and weight, and her marriage to the late billionaire J. Howard Marshall (when he was 89), the death of her son Daniel, and the birth of her baby Dannielynn had been splashed all over the news.

Anna Nicole’s attempt to build a life through modeling, marriage, drugs, her children–starring in a reality show about herself–seemed sad to me. 

Pop culture was (and is) titillated (literally) by Anna Nicole, who was born in Mexia, Tex. into an economically and emotionally impoverished family. She worked as a waitress and topless dancer in Houston, before appearing on the March 1992 cover of Playboy.

From then on, for the rest of her life and even after her death, as the battle for her estate still rages, Anna Nicole has been a fixture for gossip hounds and paparazzi.

Amidst the camera clicks and (sometimes snarky) speculation about the cause of Anna Nicole’s death, I understood for the first time my Dad’s long-ago musings on Marilyn. Who cared about Anna Nicole’s soul?

In 1994, Los Angeles Magazine asked Anna Nicole if being in the limelight bothered her.  “Oh, no, I like it,” she told the Magazine, “....I’ve always liked attention.  I didn’t get it very much growing up, and I always wanted to be, you know, noticed.”

With the publication of Anna Nicole, poet and playwright Grace Cavalieri’s new poetry collection, Anna Nicole more than gets her wish. 

smith2crAnna Nicole is published by A Menendez Publication.  The force behind the enterprise is Didi Menendez, who oversees Mipoesias Magazine, MIPOradio, and OCHO MagazineAnna Nicole can be ordered from or from Ken Flynn at for $14.99, plus shipping and handling.

There are very good poets (you know who you are), card-carrying members of The Academy, who’d snort (using the best jargon) at the idea of writing poetry about the life of Anna Nicole.  That’s if they’d admit that they noticed that someone like Anna Nicole had a life.

Other poets, might attempt to write about Anna Nicole.  Yet their work would likely be bad, or at best, facile. Such scribes may be fabulous at dazzling with many syllable words or great with one-liners and the details of a character’s external life.

But they forget: a poet’s work is to give his or her characters an inner life.  What is a character without a heart and a soul?

If he or she is only an inwardly empty vessel, encased in a body and external co-minglings and events, why would we want to hear their stories?

Few, if any, poets are more masterful than Cavalieri at giving characters interior lives.

In “Language Lesson,” a poem from her book Water on the Sun, she invokes the heart of a three-year old. “The wheels froze./on the rug as I looked/at my foe/ “ME wants the bike?”/I felt the sweet pleasure of/superiority, the first ache/of it, age three./....I had him by the pronoun./It was the happiest day of my life!” Cavalieri writes.

In her collection What I Would Do for Love: Poems in the Voice of Mary Wollstonecraft, Cavalieri illuminates the inner voice of the 18th century feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. “They were/discussing the need for gentlemen/To know such subjects as/The theory of whales,” she writes.

Pinecrest Rest Haven, Cavalieri’s volume about Mr. and Mrs. P, brings the reader into the loving inner life of this couple.  “Mrs. P had never had much nurturing,/she admitted that to the soft-spoken lady in a pink smock with a badge./In fact, she didn’t know what the word meant. She thought it/meant chewing or something furry,” Cavalieri writes.

In Anna Nicole, a brilliant, and deeply moving, work of art, Cavalieri gives the celeb who was “famous, above all, for being famous,” the inner life that she never had while alive.

“I love her {Anna Nicole},” Cavalieri wrote to me in an e-mail, “she deserved an interior life.  I thought that was what poems do.”

Anna Nicole had no inner life “educational, philosophical–emotional,” Cavalieri said.  Anna Nicole didn’t sing, dance or act, and she was “propped up and fed pills, Cavalieri added. 

Anna Nicole’s only product was her body, Cavalieri said, “more than any other celebrity Anna had no network–even less human connections than Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland.”

After all the family abuse, “I saw that she had a vulnerable sweetness,” Cavalieri wrote in her e-mail, “yet there was a wonderment about her.” Innocence is a return, not a point of departure, she added.

Cavalieri’s talent and skill, draws us into and makes us care about the interior life which she has given Anna Nicole.  Through Cavalieri’s gorgeous poetic sleight of hand (her art), Anna Nicole is transformed from a disposable kitsch artifact into a character with a heart and soul who will live forever.

Don’t get me wrong about the heart and soul business.  Cavalieri hasn’t given voice to a sappy or sentimental Anna Nicole.

Though vulnerable and sweet, Anna Nicole in Cavalieri’s poems is also, at different times, angry, sad, witty, loving and sarcastic.  Anna Nicole in Cavalieri’s hands is a flesh and blood, vibrant creation, not a stick figure.

Through Cavalieri’s poems, I, too, have come to love Anna Nicole. After living with Anna Nicole for some time, I’m unable to pick a favorite poem.

One of the things that I’ve enjoying about reading and re-reading Anna Nicole is the way in which Cavalieri has Anna think about becoming a writer.  In the poem “AND EVEN MORE THAN THAT,” Cavalieri writes, “Anna was tired of her coloring book/she took a big fat crayon and wrote SHIT/all over the white wall./ Then the pavement outside/SHIT SHIT SHIT/She knew now what it was to be a writer.”

Though the above lines are amusing (especially I think to poets), there is a serious element in Anna’s desire to create.  Cavalieri in “AND EVEN MORE THAN THAT”, writes, “That’s why she was glad she was now a writer,/insinuating herself against the world,/having her say.”

The poem “WHERE LOVE IS MEANT TO BE,” is one of many in this collection that reveal Anna Nicole’s vulnerability.  “When she was little and too scared to talk,/she held out a hamster in her hands, so people would relate.”

In the poem “ALTHOUGH SHE WORE A RED CHIFFON DRESS SHE WAS SAD,” we are made to feel the humiliation that Anna Nicole, a tabloid low-level celeb lives with. For some unknown reason, Anna is invited to speak at the National Press Club.

Cavalieri writes, “She was not prepared for a catechism of questions,/...all the words in the yellow pages could not have prepared her for the fact,/when she stood up, lunch was already over,/....and her microphone was turned off, while she ran from table to/table to/get someone–anyone’s attention.”

Her relationship with drugs was one of the most easily caricatured aspects of Anna Nicole’s life.  Some of the best poems in Cavalieri’s collection take us into Nicole’s time with rehab, therapy and hospitals.  The poem “Group Therapy,” will strike home with anyone with any type of vulnerability who’s tried to be emotionally truthful to the powers-that-be.

Cavalieri writes, “The fat therapist in a jump suit asked what made each one/happy./Anna said a hit of coke and a shot of tequila,/ then she flushed hot, everyone laughing.  She thought she was allowed to tell the truth.../how she lied on the manager’s expense sheets,/slept with people’s husbands.  She thought she could/unburden the grief, but now she would shut up. The hell with this.”

Thanks to poetry, Anna Nicole didn’t, in the end, have to shut up.

Thanks to Cavalieri’s superb new collection, Anna Nicole is able to tell the truth.

In the disclosure department, I have appeared on “The Poet and the Poem,” the public radio show, which Cavalieri hosts, and I was a student in a poetry workshop, which Cavalieri conducted.

For more information about her work, go to


©2008 Kathi Wolfe
©2008 Scene4 Magazine

Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet and a columnist for Scene4.
Her reviews and commentary have also appeared in an array of publications.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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