'Helen In Hollywood' by Judy Grahn

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When she goes to Hollywood
she is an angel.

She writes in red red lipstick
on the window of her body,
long for me, oh need me!
Parts her lips like a lotus.

Opening night she stands, poised
on her carpet, luminescent,
young men humming
all around her. She is flying.
Her high heels are wands, her
furs electric. Her bracelets
flashing. How completely
dazzling her complexion,
how vibrant her hair and eyes,
how brilliant the glow that spreads
four full feet around her.

She is totally self conscious
self contained
self centered,
caught in the blazing central eye
of our attention.

We infuse her.
Fans, we wave at her
like handmaids, unabashedly,
we crowd on tiptoe pressed together
just to feel the fission of the star
that lives on earth,
the bright, the angel sun
the luminescent glow of someone
other than we.
Look! Look! She is different.
Medium for all our energy
as we pour it through her.
Vessel of light,
Her flesh is like flax,
a living fiber.
She is the symbol of our dreams and fears
and bloody visions, all
our metaphors for living in America.

Harlowe, Holiday, Monroe

When she goes to Hollywood
she is the fire for all purposes.

Her flesh is like dark wax, a candle.
She is from any place or class.
"That's the one," we say in instant recognition,
because our breath is taken by her beauty,
or what we call her beauty.

She is glowing from every pore.
we adore her. we imitate and rob her
adulate envy
admire neglect
scorn. leave alone
invade, fill
ourselves with her.
we love her, we say
and if she isn't careful
we may even kill her.

Opening night
she lands on her carpet,
long fingered hands
like divining rods
bobbing and drawing the strands
of our attention,
as limousine drivers in blue jackets
stand on the hoods of their cars
to see the angel, talking

Davis, Dietrich, Wood
Tyson, Taylor, Gabor
Helen, when she goes to Hollywood
to be a walking star,
to be an actor

She is far more that a product
of Max Factor,
Max Factor didn't make her
though the make-up helps us
see what we would like
to take her for

her flesh is like glass,
a chandelier
a mirror

Harlowe, Holiday, Monroe
when she went to Hollywood
to be an angel

And it is she and not we
who is different

She who marries the crown prince
who leads the processional dance,
she who sweeps eternally
down the steps
in her long round gown.
A leaping, laughing leading lady,
she is our flower.
It is she who lies strangled
in the bell tower;
she who is monumentally drunk and suicidal
or locked waiting in the hightower,
she who lies sweating with the vicious jungle fever,
who leaps from her blue window
when he will, if he will, leave her

it is she and not we
who is the lotus

It is she with the lilies in her hair
and a keyboard beside her,
the dark flesh glowing

She whose wet lips nearly swallow
the microphone, whose whiskey voice
is precise and sultry and overwhelming,
she who is princess and harlequin,
athlete and moll and whore and lady,
goddess of the silver screen
the only original American queen

and Helen
when she was an angel
when she went to Hollywood

Anonymous submission.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Helen in Hollywood: A Feminist Interpretation

Judy Grahn's poem "Helen in Hollywood" is a powerful feminist critique of the patriarchal culture of Hollywood and its impact on women. In this essay, I will provide a detailed literary criticism and interpretation of the poem, exploring its themes, imagery, and language.

The Setting and Theme

The poem is set in Hollywood, the epicenter of the film industry, and it portrays a woman named Helen who is struggling to survive in this male-dominated world. The theme of the poem is the objectification and exploitation of women in Hollywood, and how this culture perpetuates the myth of the "ideal woman" as a passive, obedient, and sexually available object.

The Imagery

One of the most striking features of the poem is its vivid imagery. Grahn uses a rich tapestry of metaphors and symbols to convey the complex emotions and experiences of Helen. For example, she describes Helen as a "captive queen," a "damsel in distress," and a "trophy wife." These images evoke the sense of confinement and powerlessness that Helen feels in the midst of the Hollywood machine.

Furthermore, Grahn contrasts these images of victimhood with images of resistance and rebellion. She portrays Helen as a warrior queen who is fighting against her oppressors. She describes her as a "rebel goddess," a "resistance fighter," and a "fierce Amazon." These images suggest that Helen is not just a passive victim, but an active agent of change who is fighting back against the forces that seek to control and exploit her.

The Language

The language of the poem is rich and vibrant. Grahn uses a variety of poetic techniques such as alliteration, repetition, and rhyme to create a sense of rhythm and musicality. For example, she uses the repetition of the phrase "Helen in Hollywood" to create a sense of identity and to emphasize the central theme of the poem. She also uses alliteration to create a sense of energy and movement. For example, she describes Helen as "the queen of quivering quills" and "the mistress of the mic."

Moreover, Grahn uses language to subvert the patriarchal norms that dominate Hollywood. She challenges the male gaze by describing Helen as a "goddess of the gaze" who is not just an object of desire, but also a subject who has agency and power. She also challenges the heteronormative culture of Hollywood by portraying Helen as a queer icon. She describes her as a "lesbian lover" and a "femme fatale" who is not afraid to break the rules and challenge the status quo.

The Feminist Interpretation

At its core, "Helen in Hollywood" is a feminist poem that critiques the patriarchal culture of Hollywood and its impact on women. Grahn uses the character of Helen to illustrate the ways in which women are objectified, exploited, and oppressed in this industry. She shows how women are reduced to mere objects of desire, and how their worth is determined by their physical appearance and their ability to appeal to the male gaze.

Furthermore, Grahn highlights the ways in which women are pitted against each other in this industry. She describes how women are forced to compete for roles and attention, and how they are encouraged to see each other as rivals rather than allies. This competition creates a toxic environment that perpetuates the patriarchal norms of the industry.

However, Grahn also offers a message of hope and empowerment. She portrays Helen as a rebel goddess who is fighting back against these oppressive forces. She shows how Helen is using her voice, her talent, and her sexuality to challenge the status quo and to demand recognition and respect. Through Helen, Grahn offers a vision of a new kind of Hollywood, one that is more inclusive, diverse, and empowering for women.


In conclusion, "Helen in Hollywood" is a powerful feminist poem that critiques the patriarchal culture of Hollywood and its impact on women. Through vivid imagery, rich language, and powerful symbols, Grahn portrays the struggles and triumphs of a woman who refuses to be silenced or oppressed. Her message of hope and empowerment offers a glimpse of a better, more just world, one where women are valued and respected for who they are, not just for their physical appearance or their ability to please men.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Helen In Hollywood: A Feminist Masterpiece

Judy Grahn's poem "Helen In Hollywood" is a feminist masterpiece that explores the intersection of gender, sexuality, and power in the entertainment industry. Written in 1974, the poem is a scathing critique of the Hollywood system and its treatment of women, particularly those who are seen as sexual objects rather than human beings. In this analysis, we will delve into the themes and motifs of the poem, as well as its historical context and relevance to contemporary feminist discourse.

The poem begins with a reference to the mythological figure of Helen of Troy, who was famously abducted by the Trojan prince Paris, leading to the Trojan War. Grahn's Helen, however, is not a passive victim but a powerful woman who has chosen to enter the world of Hollywood. She is described as "a queen in her own right," with "a face that launched a thousand ships" and "a body that could stop a war." These lines are a nod to the traditional portrayal of Helen as a beautiful and desirable woman, but they also subvert that portrayal by emphasizing her agency and autonomy.

As the poem progresses, we see Helen navigating the treacherous waters of Hollywood, where she is constantly objectified and exploited by men in power. She is "a commodity, a product, a thing," and her worth is measured solely by her ability to attract and satisfy male desire. She is subjected to endless auditions, photo shoots, and screen tests, all of which require her to conform to narrow and oppressive beauty standards. She is told to lose weight, change her hair, and wear revealing clothing, all in the name of "art" and "entertainment."

Despite these challenges, Helen refuses to be reduced to a mere sex object. She asserts her own desires and needs, demanding respect and autonomy from those around her. She rejects the advances of powerful men who try to use her for their own pleasure, and she forms alliances with other women in the industry, recognizing the importance of solidarity and sisterhood in a world that seeks to divide and conquer.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery and metaphor. Grahn draws on a wide range of cultural references, from Greek mythology to Hollywood films, to create a rich and complex tapestry of meaning. For example, she compares Helen to "a goddess in a cage," evoking the image of a powerful and majestic creature trapped and confined. This metaphor highlights the ways in which women are often constrained and limited by patriarchal structures, even when they possess great talent and potential.

Another powerful image in the poem is that of the "casting couch," a term used to describe the practice of powerful men demanding sexual favors from aspiring actresses in exchange for roles. Grahn describes the couch as "a throne of power," emphasizing the ways in which sexual exploitation is intertwined with broader systems of domination and control. She also links this image to the myth of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades and forced to spend half the year in the underworld. This connection highlights the ways in which women's bodies are often treated as objects to be possessed and controlled by men.

Throughout the poem, Grahn uses language in a playful and subversive way, challenging traditional gender roles and expectations. For example, she describes Helen as "a butch in a skirt," a phrase that disrupts the binary categories of masculinity and femininity. She also uses puns and wordplay to create a sense of irony and humor, as when she describes Hollywood as "a place where dreams come true / if you're willing to sell your soul."

One of the most powerful aspects of the poem is its relevance to contemporary feminist discourse. Despite being written over 40 years ago, the issues it addresses are still very much present in our society today. Women in Hollywood continue to face discrimination, harassment, and objectification, as evidenced by the recent #MeToo movement. The poem also speaks to broader issues of gender inequality and the ways in which women's bodies are policed and controlled in a variety of contexts.

In conclusion, "Helen In Hollywood" is a feminist masterpiece that explores the complex and often fraught relationship between gender, sexuality, and power in the entertainment industry. Through its use of imagery, metaphor, and language, the poem challenges traditional gender roles and expectations, while also highlighting the ways in which women are subjected to objectification and exploitation. Its relevance to contemporary feminist discourse is undeniable, and it remains a powerful and inspiring work of art that continues to resonate with readers today.

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