Wednesday, November 14, 2012

“Morphine Meditations”: A Review of Bobbi Lurie’s the morphine poems

(Otoliths, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9872010-5-8)

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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Dark Teen Vision of 2045: A Review of Theodore A. Webb’s The STARLING Connection

 (self-published, 2012; available on in for several devices)
Take a moment to imagine American society’s reliance on social networking, Genetically Modified food, and pharmaceutical over-prescription continuing on its current upward arc.
What will a virtual-reality world of synthetic foods, drinks, mood-enhancers, genetic manipulation, and digital economic opportunity-building run by the biomedical, religious, media, political, military, and educational establishments look like?
If you are thinking bleak and slave-like, then there is much to appeal to you in The STARLING Connection, author Theodore Webb’s four-part vision of life in 30 years.
Part Phillip K. Dick and part John Hughes’ prototypical high school meets Tim Burton’ Edward Scissorhands, The STARLING Connection is a sobering and often times violent and frightening look at what our world might become if things continue on their current trajectory.
Taking the premise that the more things change the more they remain the same, much in Webb’s 2045 is familiar. Societal structures are still easily recognizable, and control is implemented from them all—education through an under-individualization of the students and strategically placed scanners that make recommendations on how many and what meds one should be taking for “optimal” performance; the military through constant patroling by overhead Drones and the mandatory insertion of chips in everyone’s bodies called the Radio Frequency Identification System; religion through TEMPLE—a massively networked mega-church that brainwashes its masses with a disturbing vision of God and “his” message and expectations for humanity (the scenes at TEMPLE invoke Sally’s visit to see the messiah in the Who’s Tommy); and the media through its carefully filtered, packaged, and presented “Prop News.” Underneath it all is a “bread and circuses” mentality that harkens to the pre-collapse of the Roman Empire.
Those who don’t comply with life within the SUPERNET are sent to Reconditioning Centers.
Webb writes in a fast-paced, passionate style that intermixes narrative, blog entries, manifestos, and poetry, pulling together point and counter-point, attack and response, and an abundance of philosophy and ideology through the eyes of teenagers and adults. It is an engaging mix that keeps The STARLING Connection from becoming didactic, even as Webb tackles the big, abstract notions of God, Freedom, Individuality, and so on.
He does an impressive job of finding the authentic voice of his teen characters and for this reason alone the book should appeal to this age group, although the reasons for teens to read this series are far more numerous than that.
The story centers around Simon Laramie (his first name evoking the Biblical magician and his last name the tragic murder in 1998 of gay student Matthew Shepard), a high school freshman who has lost his family in a car accident. As he tries to navigate life with his over-medicated grandmother he faces punishment at the hands of the high school’s athletic heroes (who play the eponymous “number one sport”) as he attempts to assert his individualism.
Having spent the past 10 years doing interactive bullying education workshops with over 25,000 school-aged kids, I see early evidence of the link between the constant exposure to the digital world and the manifestations of and attitudes toward violence in this book series. It is not mere fiction Webb is penning any more than the great science fiction writers of the last 130 years were. His Alternate Reality is based on our current one.
Simon’s actions draw the attention of Jaya Ceyes, a rebellious student with a vision to liberate her fellow students from the technological–pharmaceutical noose around their necks. She chooses to do so by creating a SUPERNET portal named STARLING (Spirit,  Truth,  Art,  Rights, Life, Independence, News-Knowledge and Growth)—a place for free expression and the expansion of ideas through the Arts. Yet, like in other dark visions of total government control such as the Rush album “2112” or the film Equilibrium, the Arts have been crushed and suppressed by those in control. Jaya is an archetypical warrior-goddess and therefore, in the eyes of the Establishment, she is the Tempter, Corruptor, and Seductress who must be removed at all costs.
STARLING quickly gets attention from both sides of the freedom line. The subsequent interplay of student–student and student–adult confrontations, alliances, and betrayals drive the last three parts of the series.
I highly recommend this book to teenagers and to anyone who is interested in better understanding where our digitized, medicated society may be heading.
If readers want  to  learn  more  about  “The  STARLING  Series”  and  other  works  by  Theodore Webb they should visit: All  four  parts  in  “The  STARLING  Connection:  Volume  One”  of  “The  STARLING  Series”  are  available in e-book format on for a variety of devices.