Celebrity! It’s “when we clamber upwards in men’s eyes/up on the lacquered rungs of praise” according to Roger Nash. But it implies perhaps inevitable downward slide from the heights as symbolized by Priscila Uppal’s The Empty Frame. Barry Dempster holds on to an eternally luminous Marilyn Monroe, “a polaroid of a peach,/her hair a perfect cloud” but Myrna Garanis sees her as diminished, “Marilyn/smaller than expected” and Mildred Tremblay portrays the dead star as little more than a slab of meat in the morgue, “Aphrodite, flat on her back.” We are taken from an admiring audience grooving to Tina Turner in her prime to “pilgrims to a tainted saint” at Graceland singing “happy Birthday/to a dead man.” Steven Michael Berzensky describes the naïve beauty of the famous: “the moth is not aware/of the colour of its wings” but other poets in this volume deny any grace to John Dillinger, Karla Holmolka, the Unabomber and Patty Hearst.
In Larger Than Life, Adam, the first celebrity when he “became remembering dust” counterpoints Giant’s James Dean during his last days as John Lee mourns the passing of Roy Rogers and Roger Bell weeps for the Lone Ranger. Painters Emily Carr, “the flint that strikes flame” and Rafael are idolized, along with writers Paul Theroux, Billy Collins, Al Purdy, and Arthur Rimbaud, who leads Carol Langille to “the source of poetry’s deep replenishment.” Skater Barbara Ann Scott, Riverdale High’s Archie Andrews, Lawrence of Arabia and the Pope occupy these pages along with Ronnie R. Brown’s suicidal bag lady forever immortalized by a passing photographer. Whether it is notability or notoriety, this anthology thoroughly examines what Leslie McIlroy calls “the dream where we grace the cover of a magazine in dark sunglasses with just the right amount of original wind in our hair.”