the morphine poems

a review by Joey Madia

In March of 2010 I opened my review of Bobbi Lurie’s collection of poems titled Grief Suite by saying: “Bobbi Lurie writes poetry that hurts.”

Some two and a half years later, Lurie has presented the reader with a substantially different group of poems in both form and substance. Different, yes—but equally compelling.

the morphine poems are 55 pieces that vary in length from a page and a quarter to a single sentence. All are run-on and stream of consciousness in form, with the varied content tethered to Lurie’s experiences during treatment for cancer.

The first poem, “horrors of morphine,” is also the longest at more than a page, and sets the stage for all that is to come. It is here that we first experience Lurie’s thoughts on the state of poets and poetry, a theme that pervades:

“they want to be among you if you offer them a contract for a book they believe will make them famous but if you speak the truth they think let’s see martha’s vineyard” (5).

And, in “blog of solitude chapter…”:

“the i guess famous poet i never heard of looked up and said my books were written on good paper… before i left he reminded me of his reading” (11).

Quite a harsh indictment of where things are, but as I learned with Grief Suite, Lurie (thankfully) pulls no punches. We’ve all, as poets, been on the receiving end of just these things.

As the poems progress, there is much of Spirit through the physical pains and material obstacles. Lurie writes of cedar and moths, feathers and snakes, lemongrass and rice, “green lizards in the garden” and “hawks … in their slide toward north.” Poems such as “to be let in the back porch” are Shamanic in the power of their visions, as the author walks on the edge between the worlds made all the more defined by the morphine.

What I like best about the morphine poems is the rich variety. In the midst of peaceful visions of nature we get:

“forgive me for merely sitting decomposing exponentially on your tragically picturesque front porch” (“clotted or crooned…,” 20)

“they had to take the teeth out of my wings” (“our undoing done smoldering,” 22)

“the ground a gutter of foraging crows” (“heart of ruins if body remains,” 23)

The reader is actively engaged… we cannot afford to settle in as often happens when a collection is all of a piece and the poems center on a central theme and form and so become undifferentiated, like listening to the droning voices of the early-morning news. Assumption is a danger here. The poems will fight them at every turn.

Through it all is the Condition of the Writer: the struggle, the pursuit: “wish the dictator inside us did not deride us our pathetic leanings toward verse” (32) or the complete poem “if only good-bye”:

“pale hand drops off side of bed uttering last burning wish to lose secret universe of words” (33)

Lose it forever? Lose it by putting it out into the world, where it is no longer secret? The poems offer answers and beg questions for them.

As the traveler travels, not all is lost in the gauzy haze of the morphine and the writer’s life: “greatest love comes to those closest to death” (37). This is unadulterated optimism—a virile counterpoint to the other pages of poems that encase it.

Near book’s end, in a poem called “i need so little now one drop from the shelf,” Lurie writes, “poets don’t want to hear about disease they write persona poems about it” (51).

Not all poets. Bobbi Lurie demonstrates once again, as she did in Grief Suite, that tragedy is her triumph and that poetry should be Honest and Unself-assuming in its brutal vision of how and what things are.

If you care to hear her Truth, spend some hours with this book.

TITLE: the morphin poems
AUTHOR: Bobbi Lurie
ISBN: 9780987201058

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