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.

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