Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand (Plato) –or– How I Lost Faith In Poet(s)ry

Bobbi Lurie

Several years ago, I opened an email which came from a poet promoting her book “for women with cancer.” It felt like a miracle. The cancer she described sounded similar to the type of cancer my closest friend had been battling for years. If this poet could offer any hope, I’d buy the book as a Christmas present for my friend.
When I contacted this poet to obtain details regarding the type of cancer she claimed to have and the type of treatments she had gone through, she told me her “cancer story” came to her suddenly, from her imagination. I asked her if she at least attached some sort of autobiographical statement to her work because she certainly had me fooled.
This poet told me she was afraid to post autobiographical material. She said, “If I told the truth, no one will ever believe me.”
I was jarred by her words and was haunted by her acceptance of kudos for her bravery in fighting a cancer she invented in her head. But I, myself, had just been diagnosed with a very difficult cancer; I was determined to let all unnecessary involvements go.
But, while undergoing treatments at a cancer clinic, sitting in the computer room with other cancer patients, I found her cancer poems once again, only this time they were on an Oncology Site. This site was meant to help cancer patients express the anger they feel in dealing with dehumanizing treatments and the need to face their own mortality. Needless to say, the cancer patients in the room with me were more than angry to learn that a poet who never had cancer felt she had a right to post her persona poems on a site meant for cancer patients only.
Insult added to injury: an anthology on cancer was sent to me, by a friend, to cheer me up when my own diagnosis became increasingly dire. This same poet’s persona poems were in this anthology as well. In fact, more of her poems were printed in this anthology than anyone else’s. Guidelines were specific in requiring that submissions be made by cancer patients only. This poet had effectively made this anthology null and void.
I swore from then on to never write another persona poem. As time went on, I gave up writing poetry completely. But, before I did, I started working on what became my fourth poetry collection, “the morphine poems.” I gave myself some rules for this collection: “no stanzas, no line breaks, no punctuation, no lies.”
Here is the first poem in the collection:
horrors of morphine
the subject of a pamphlet people don’t read but throw away contains the
ones without pamphlets who are then taken revenge upon for original
thinking/ they’d rather not read pamphlets / they’d rather be nomads
with past lives/ they’d rather be myocytes in petri dishes scaffolding
their migrations into biology…
but some hearts dissolve in a day… they leave you bleeding constant flow
of morphine they leave for new entertainment for isn’t the computer just
like TV/ a new shore of heartbreak a new shore with condos to contain
them/ changes in morphology cell to cell while strangers dwell in
duplicity with strangers who speak in foreign tongues the mother tongue
is english and 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 instead let’s say no one speaks
on the ferry to there everything minus me can’t see what this life is
its vision apocalyptic yet expected rumors spread like cancer and
friends appear like…and disappear like….but scars remain framed in
imagination embedded in skin appearing in their jeers invisible via
internet but appearing just the same like an invisible fungus among us
are people who cheat yet imagine truth in their pocket as if in a
notebook it contains what they imagine in such subtle ways and in such
masses they limit their image to essay form adorn you with flattery till
you fail to entertain
forgive them says who not being jesus for no reason for friends will
greet you differently like someone they knew once but thought had died
on an island they forgot the name of but just the same they greet you
and cloak you with news of their latest addictions and admit at last
that what surprises them is to see you still alive like someone they
loved once but now choose to lie to like someone abandoned in a field
of regret your friends greet you like a stranger rearrange you in their
mind for they have books to sell and one calls her readers her “fans” her
thighs are not tanned but cellulite while you bleed to death she sees you
in a different light
aren’t you must be says their rumors form tumors doctors take out
through knives and anesthesia then a scar around your heart will stay
forever so you empty self of poetry from those who cover feelings with
ambition and sentiment
don’t want to hear the sirens don’t see your abdomen’s bleeding people
recede in the backdrop lonely and dark forgetting the answer they asked
the question you made in their mind their mission is networking on
commission cell to cell the other side of strangers is morphology of
strangeness cell to cell abandoned
Bobbi Lurie is the author of four poetry collections, most recently “the morphine poems.” She is currently working on a book about/with Marcel Duchamp.