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Anna Nicole

ISBN: 978-1434896087

by Grace Cavalieri
Review by: Moira Richards

January 2009

Anna Nicole is an entire volume of poems that imagine, explore, the life of a beautiful and famous model. It is explicitly fictional and accompanied by a disclaimer that the work in no way results from any agreement with Anna Nicole or her family, and that any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. Nevertheless. Holly Picano's compelling hot pink cover art bears close resemblance to Anna Nicole Smith and I spent a while on the internet browsing the history and pictures of that tragic beauty which did help me to contextualise Grace Cavalieri's poetry.

The Anna Nicole of these poems is a poor girl grown rich - famed and loved mostly for the beauty and the size of her breasts. And the poetry explores the allure of a lifestyle that most of us see only from the shiny outside -

Anna could almost feel the lights on her shoulders

the only mother she ever had,

a crowed in front rippling with love and admiration,

waves and waves of people watching her,

like an ocean, like a sea of adoration, & (Starburst pg 60)

But Cavalieri's work shows sensitivity not only to the pressures of life in the limelight

She crested the wooden plank onto the runway,

breasting the height of her career.

Someone backstage hissed DON'T BREATHE OUT

JUST BREATHE IN. The breasts are the outcome, they said,

everything depends on how they come out. (Showtime pg 23)

but also to its dehumanising aspects. Most of the poems are narrated through the persona of the book's Anna Nicole and the reader gradually learns to understand and perhaps even to love this protagonist. Slowly through the book, Anna begins to try to calm the whirl of her life and to make some kind of meaning of it,  

Anna would be kind to herself
and mount only those photos
with men who did not humiliate her, also some animals she rescued.
Or just the animals.

She wanted so much
to write a song about why what they did to her did not kill her.
But she would have to figure out why, first. (Where Love is Meant to Be pg 73)

But she has a hard time of finding her own true self, of pinpointing the source of the vague sense she has that all is not as it should be. It seems too, that its been far too long since Anna lived in a real, uncushioned world and some of the poems show her childlike naiveté,

The fat therapist in a red 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

She thought she could
unburden the grief, but now she would shut up. (Group Therapy pg 41)

There are too, many instances of kind humour in Cavalieri's poetry which makes her Anna Nicole all the more lovable -

No one called after shed left a message
on her answering machine: I am changing my life, if I do not
call back you are part of the change
Now she was lonely. (Pillow Talk pg 53)

And there are the times when the strength of the person behind the lovely exterior shows through, when the reader begins to understand her complexities, her true grit

Anna was not the old Anna, anymore. She did not
have her dogs teeth whitened. She was tired, plain
weary of pretense and bad people. She never hurt a soul.
How much do you have to give in this world?
More than you had? No. Shed give what she could,
Honesty. Its all she had left.

She simply came to the dais,
and with tears ruining her Revlon, opened her blouse,
exposing her breasts. Gasps and sighs in waves, then more waves.
Here. This is what you all want. Here. Two of them,
two, with nipples, mammary glands, and other stuff.
Here. Take your pictures. I had a wish. Nobody gave it to me
so I might as well give you yours.

Then she buttoned up for safety and floated with dignity off the stage. (Reading the Trades pg 51)

I've just picked one strand of blonde hair from Anna Nicole to share with you for this review. Grace Cavalieri's poems portray many more delightfully nuanced snaps that cohere to form a thoughtful portrayal of a complex and very human being.


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