'Helen In Hollywood' by Judy Grahn

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The Queen of Wands1982When 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, MonroeHelen
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
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, talkingDavis, Dietrich, Wood
Tyson, Taylor, Gabor
Helen, when she goes to Hollywood
to be a walking star,
to be an actorShe 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 forher flesh is like glass,
a chandelier
a mirrorHarlowe, Holiday, Monroe
when she went to Hollywood
to be an angelAnd it is she and not we
who is differentShe 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 herit is she and not we
who is the lotusIt is she with the lilies in her hair
and a keyboard beside her,
the dark flesh glowingShe 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 queenand Helen
when she was an angel
when she went to Hollywood

Editor 1 Interpretation

Helen in Hollywood: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Judy Grahn's Helen in Hollywood is a remarkable poem that explores the complexities of gender and sexuality in the context of Hollywood culture. The poem is a retelling of the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, who is portrayed as a Hollywood starlet struggling to navigate the world of showbiz.

At its core, Helen in Hollywood is a critique of the way women are objectified and commodified in the entertainment industry, and the ways in which they are expected to conform to narrow and oppressive standards of beauty and femininity. Through her vivid imagery and powerful language, Grahn exposes the ways in which the film industry perpetuates harmful, patriarchal norms that continue to shape our understanding of gender and sexuality today.

Overview of the Poem

Helen in Hollywood is a free-verse poem consisting of 24 stanzas of varying lengths. The poem is written in the first person, with Helen herself serving as the narrator. The poem is divided into four parts, each of which explores a different aspect of Helen's experience in Hollywood.

Part One introduces us to Helen and sets the scene for the rest of the poem. We learn that Helen is a Hollywood starlet, famous for her beauty and her talent. However, we also learn that Helen is deeply unhappy with her life in Hollywood, and feels trapped by the expectations placed upon her. She longs to break free and find her own path, but feels that she is unable to do so.

Part Two delves deeper into Helen's experiences in Hollywood. We learn that she is constantly subjected to scrutiny and judgement, both from the media and from those around her. She is objectified and sexualized at every turn, and feels that she must constantly perform for the cameras in order to maintain her status as a star. She longs for a deeper connection with the world around her, but feels that this is impossible in the artificial and superficial environment of Hollywood.

Part Three is the emotional heart of the poem. Here, Helen reflects on her past, and the choices that have led her to where she is now. She laments the fact that she has become so disconnected from her own desires and passions, and longs to reclaim her sense of self. She also reflects on the ways in which she has been hurt and betrayed by those around her, and the toll that this has taken on her.

In Part Four, Helen resolves to take control of her own destiny. She realizes that the only way to find true happiness and fulfillment is to break free from the constraints of Hollywood and forge her own path in life. She acknowledges that this will be a difficult and painful journey, but also recognizes the power of her own agency and determination.

Analysis of the Text

One of the most striking aspects of Helen in Hollywood is its use of vivid, sensory imagery. Grahn paints a picture of Hollywood as a world of bright lights, flashy costumes, and superficiality. She uses metaphors and similes to create a sense of unease and discomfort, as though the world of Hollywood is constantly shifting and unstable.

For example, in Part One, Grahn writes:

And so I spin like a flame, the dress whirls out from me, and I know I am slowly, slowly consumed by the light.

This image of Helen as a flame, slowly being consumed by the light, is both beautiful and unsettling. It suggests that Helen is being consumed by the very thing that she is supposed to be striving for - fame and success. The image of the dress whirling out from her is also significant, as it suggests that Helen is losing control over her own identity and becoming a mere object to be admired and consumed.

Throughout the poem, Grahn uses repetition and parallelism to create a sense of rhythm and momentum. This is particularly evident in Part Two, where Helen reflects on the ways in which she is constantly being judged and objectified:

They're looking at me, always looking and I feel like an object, a thing to be watched and admired and I'm not even sure what they see.

Here, the repetition of "looking" and "admired" creates a sense of urgency and anxiety, as though Helen is constantly under surveillance and unable to escape the gaze of those around her. The use of the word "thing" is also significant, as it suggests that Helen is being reduced to a mere object, devoid of agency or autonomy.

Another key aspect of Helen in Hollywood is its use of literary allusions and intertextuality. Grahn draws heavily on the story of Helen of Troy, as well as other myths and legends, to create a sense of depth and complexity in the poem. For example, in Part Three, Helen reflects on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the ways in which it resonates with her own experiences:

I think of Orpheus and Eurydice the way he turned, too soon, to look and lost her forever. I wonder what it's like, to love someone enough to turn around.

Here, Grahn uses the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to explore themes of love and loss, as well as the dangers of looking back and becoming trapped in the past. The image of Orpheus turning to look back at Eurydice is also significant, as it suggests that Helen is struggling to move forward and let go of her own past.

Overall, Helen in Hollywood is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores important themes of gender, sexuality, and identity. Through her use of vivid imagery, repetition, and allusion, Grahn creates a vivid portrait of a woman struggling to find her own path in a world that seeks to objectify and commodify her. At its core, the poem is a call to action, urging us to break free from the constraints of patriarchal norms and forge our own destiny.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Helen In Hollywood: A Poetic Masterpiece

Judy Grahn's "Helen In Hollywood" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a powerful piece of literature that explores the themes of beauty, fame, and the price of success. The poem is a retelling of the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, but it is set in modern-day Hollywood. In this article, we will take a closer look at the poem and analyze its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with the lines, "Helen in Hollywood, beauty on a billboard, / ten feet tall, the perfect woman." These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem. They introduce us to the main character, Helen, who is portrayed as the epitome of beauty and perfection. The fact that she is on a billboard emphasizes her fame and success. However, the use of the word "perfect" also hints at the fact that there is something artificial and manufactured about her beauty.

As the poem progresses, we see that Helen's beauty and fame come at a cost. She is constantly under scrutiny and is expected to maintain her perfect image at all times. The lines, "She must be perfect, / not a hair out of place, / not a wrinkle in her dress," highlight the pressure that she is under. She is not allowed to be human and make mistakes. She is expected to be flawless, both in her appearance and her behavior.

The poem also explores the idea of the male gaze and how it affects women in the entertainment industry. The lines, "Men look at her, / they want her, / they need her," show how women are objectified and reduced to their physical appearance. Helen is not valued for her talent or her intelligence, but for her beauty. She is a commodity that is bought and sold by men in power.

Despite the pressure and objectification that she faces, Helen is not a passive victim. She is a strong and independent woman who is determined to succeed. The lines, "She knows what she wants, / she knows how to get it," show her ambition and drive. She is not content to be a mere object of desire. She wants to be in control of her own destiny.

The poem also explores the theme of identity and how it is shaped by external forces. Helen is not just a person, but a product that is marketed and sold to the public. Her identity is constructed by the media and the entertainment industry. The lines, "She is what they want her to be, / she is what they need her to be," show how her identity is shaped by the expectations of others. She is not allowed to be herself, but must conform to the image that has been created for her.

The poem ends with the lines, "Helen in Hollywood, / the perfect woman, / the price of success." These lines sum up the central theme of the poem. Helen's success comes at a price. She has to sacrifice her individuality and conform to the expectations of others. She is objectified and reduced to her physical appearance. However, despite all of this, she is still a strong and independent woman who is determined to succeed.

In conclusion, "Helen In Hollywood" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of beauty, fame, and the price of success. It is a retelling of the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, but it is set in modern-day Hollywood. The poem highlights the pressure that women in the entertainment industry face to conform to a certain image and the objectification that they experience. However, it also shows that women are not passive victims, but strong and independent individuals who are determined to succeed. "Helen In Hollywood" is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today.

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