*The Book I Never Read

& Letter From the Lawn

Bobbi Lurie

Custom Words Press, 2003 & 2006

*winner of the Edges Poetry Prize


Reviewed by Tom Hunley


The first line of Bobbi Lurie's first book is "Oh, to pose in one of those Chenille Trimmed Sherpa Pullovers," (from "Perusing the Fall Catalogue and Dreaming of a Better Life"). It is typical of Lurie's best work that she can take a mundane event (reading a catalogue, watching Fight Club, or attending a cocktail party) and allow it to launch her into realms of gold. Lurie's ability to find inspiration anywhere she looks reminds me of Guillaume Apollinaire's remark, in "The New Spirit and the Poets," that "One can begin with an everyday event: a dropped handkerchief can be for the poet the lever with which to move an entire universe."

That is not to say that Lurie writes only about quotidian subjects; she is not afraid to tackle the big topics, as well. For example, her poem "Kabul" is a powerful persona piece written in the voice of an Afghani woman with a hidden talent for drawing. Having been harshly punished by her father for looking too long at a man named Bashir who is missing one leg ("I walk through him with my eyes / Enter his hidden rooms"), she waits until everyone is asleep, and then:

          I draw Bashir, his stump, my father with his guns,
          My mother hunched over the fire, stirring lentils.
          I draw them all out of me.
          I open myself to the darkness.
          I wait for night to speak.

This poet's gift for empathy is not limited to people on the other side of the world. The Book I Never Read contains a powerful sequence of poems about the speaker's aging mother, and in "Variations on the Theme of Loneliness," Lurie offers realistic, vividly-imagined glimpses into the mind of an autistic child "telling stories to the tree, / laughing at the tree's response."

Some of the same concerns recur in Lurie's second book, Letter from the Lawn. In several poems, the speaker cares for an autistic son, from "the emergency delivery, doctor's blunder, and how you stared into your baby's eyes the whole night" ("Misery") to a therapist's office, where the therapist "points to the chart / which says my nine-year-old son is really five" and "sends me to a room where I pay $117 for the hour" ("And the Shoes Will Take Us There in Spite of the Circumference"). In other poems, including "The Perfect Black Blazer," "The Psychiatrist Says She's Severely Demented," and "After Senility," the speaker tells what it is like to watch one's mother deteriorate in a nursing home before leaving for the next life, though, through the force of the imagination, the speaker is still able to meet her "dead and rested" mother for coffee ("After Senility").

Letter from the Lawn is notable for the amount of formal experimentation in it, from the dactylic rhythm of "Weeding" and the use of forward slashes within lines in that poem – "aching of wrist/ tingling of skin/ scratched by the plants" – to the epistolary prose of the title poem, to the syntactic doubling in "His Lips Bled When He Kissed Her" – "his voice was a rasp a chisel blade against her ears were / pounding." It is evident that Lurie has a strong ear, as she treats readers to internal rhymes such as "the peskiness of the pestilence" ("Only at Dusk Is It Possible to Love the Landscape") and "The motors of the mowers and the edgers / The hedges shall protect us" ("To Live Behind a Fence Within the Emerald Lawn").

Lurie is a very strong poet whose works I recommend. If she has a weakness, it is that at times she slips into a facile kind of new age speak, e.g. "To breathe into what is. . ." ("What We Remember May Not Remember Us"), and at times she comes off as a bit moralistic (in poems such as "Homeless Outside the Church" and "Jenine at 36"), My only other nitpick is, perhaps, with the editor. In a number of the poems, such as "Pregnant in New York" and "Transparent," the words "lays" and "lay" should have been changed to "lies" and "lie" ("as she lays in their bed waiting" and "but how she'd lay alone now").



Tom Hunley is currently an assistant professor in the English department at Western Kentucky University and the director of Steel Toe Books. Some recent poems can be found in current issues of Rattle, American Poetry Journal, Poetry East, and Ordinary Review, with new poems forthcoming in TriQuarterly and Connecticut Review. His latest books are My Life as a Minor Character (Pecan Grove Press, 2005), and Teaching Poetry Writing: A Five Canon Approach  (Multilingual Matters LTD. ).