Toxic Protection / Confidence Shock /  Tampon Alert  /  Marilyn Monroe




keen1  (ken), adj.   1.  sharp, or so shaped as to cut or pierce substances readily:  a keen blade...4.  having or showing great mental penetration or acumen:  keen reasoning.  [ME kene, OE cene, c. G kuhn bold]


keen2  (ken), Irish. –n.   1.  to wail in lamentation for the dead [t. Irish:  m caoine, der. caoinim I lament]


but from here on

I want more crazy mourning, more howl, more keening


-- “A woman Dead In Her Forties,” Adrienne Rich, 1974-1977








Over a four-year period, 1974-1977, Adrienne Rich completed “A Woman Dead In Her Forties.”  In this poem, the speaker laments a friend’s death from breast cancer, as well as their failure to deal openly with what was happening:


We stayed mute and disloyal

because we were afraid


I would have touched my fingers

to where your breasts had been

but we never did such things


-- Adrienne Rich





From, photo showing bilateral mastectomy scars















Within the same time frame as the writing of Rich’s poem, manufacture and test marketing of the Rely tampon had begun. Although P&G claimed they had chosen Rochester, New York, as a test market  because “it’ such representative demographics,” an “advertising agency” countered that “...The Rochester market is definitely skewed to the rich.”


We may not know the financial status of tampon-related toxic shock victims (TR-TSS); however, most victims (although not all) have been white women.


In her poem, Rich alludes to the race of her dying friend indirectly, suggesting that her attitude toward death was shaped by the values of her “tribe”:


since in your neo-protestant tribe the void

was supposed not to exist


except as a fashionable concept

you had no traffic with


-- Adrienne Rich


The silence of TR-TSS survivors may be due, in part, to their status as white women who have “no traffic with” “the fashionable concept” of “the void” – or for that matter, concepts such as toxicity, shock, and menstrual taboo – not to mention, corporate and governmental accountability.


From “Toxic Shock Syndrome” by Brian R. Shmaefsky, 2004:  “Figure 1.2 Today, toxic shock syndrome is most common in white women between the ages of 15 and 65, as can be seen on the three graphs here. Toxic shock syndrome occurs more frequently in women as it has been linked to tampon use.”











Adrienne Rich did not reveal the identity of the friend in her poem.  Andy Warhol, however, could not help doing so, in his 1962 silk screens of Marilyn Monroe.


Interestingly, Warhol became famous because of another series of images he created, that of ordinary Campbell soup cans.


Why did Warhol choose to silk screen Monroe’s face, rather than prescription pill bottles? Such bottles might have been more evocative of her death by overdose.




Multiple silk screens of cropped publicity photo from film “Niagra,” Andy Warhol, 1962








In Judy Grahn’s 1971 poem, “I Have Come To Claim Marilyn Monroe’s Body,” she literally digs deeper, attempting a posthumous integration of body and mind, by imagining bones as poems:


“I will carry your bones in this paper sack

And write on it the poems of Marilyn Monroe”


-- Judy Grahn


The bones/poems are then transformed into weapons, to be used against “male reporters”:


“and then I shall beat them with your skull.
hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba”


-- Judy Grahn


Listen to Angabel read Grahn’s poem on  Could a similar poem be written about victims of breast cancer, or toxic shock?






Angabel, 2006, videographer, reads Grahn’s poem aloud.  Click here to listen.





Jenny Kilvert created the four graphics to the left, by adding text balloons to a photo of her daughter Alice, who died of TR-TSS at the age of 15.


The graphics were used on flyers for National Tampon Alert Week, June 6-12, 2005.  The flyers were printed on a variety of eye-catching colored papers.


Does it make sense to consider the text balloons Alice Kilvert’s ‘posthumous poems’?








Marilyn Monroe started out life as Norma Jean Baker, going from one foster home to the next, never knowing her father.  There was also a history of mental illness on her mother’s side of the family.


Then, she entered a business focused on women’s appearance, rather than acting ability or intelligence.


Do you think “toxic” and “shocking” are good words to describe some of the experiences she must have had?


Write Marilyn Monroe’s posthumous poems, by filling in the text balloons to the right.














Mission Statement / Critique of the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health:
Why do we need another museum of this kind?



Art, Poetry and Music

of the Menovulatory Lifetime

From Protection to Expression: The Future of Menstrual Advertising

Menstrual Monday

Broken Tampon Memorial Fountain


Menovulography:  the years from puberty to menopause, told as a story with pictures


Toxic Protection / Confidence Shock



Menstrual Synchrony, Suppression and Globalization

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