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   Jacket 34 — October 2007        link Jacket 34 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Lisa Bower reviews
Letter from the Lawn
by Bobbi Lurie
96 .pp CustomWords. US$17. 1933456264 paper

This review is about 4 printed pages long. It is copyright © Lisa Bower and Jacket magazine 2007.

Quilt of experience


There is a quiet intimacy to the poems in Bobbi Lurie’s collection Letters from the Lawn, an intimacy that lulls the reader into each depicted situation. Whether Lurie’s writing about a failed relationship or the loss of a parent, each poem is a focused and unflinching glimpse into another person’s life. Despite the sometimes difficult subject matter, the poems never slip into sentimentality or sensationalism.


Loneliness, infidelity and the decay of the human mind are just some of the topics explored in Lurie’s collection. Each poem zeros in on a carefully chosen moment and are not so much narratives, but glimpses, or “letters,” depicting the human experience.

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For instance, in the poem, “In Need of Repair,” Lurie writes of a man who spends his days reading newspapers and writing letters to the editor. In this poem, loneliness and decay are seen through routine. The man “didn’t shave / He stayed in his robe and slippers all day / He started drinking whisky at four.” The list of routine continues until it culminates with the man


And how he will,

Wake in the middle of the night
To see the chicken thighs and wings stripped of meat
In the sink

Beneath the hissing light
Sinews glowing
Gizzards decomposing

Two bulbs missing.


This man’s routine is one of decay. The poem zeros in on the important moments; these moments offer a glimpse through this man’s door. Each line’s length and overall meter create a slow pace that mimics the depression circling the poem. This is Lurie’s strength; each poem’s form is specific to its subject matter. Here, in Lurie’s lines are no longer than a headline; here, the lines mimic the slowness of decomposition and depression. By the end of the poem, the reader has sat down at the table along with the man and we are “waking in the middle of the night” to see what is “missing.”


The poems in Lurie’s collection deal with perception, specifically of people who exist or are falling into other states of reality. For instance, the mother in “The Psychiatrist Says She’s Severely Demented,” the speaker and mother exist between worlds and work to mediate the space between them so that at the end, when her mother “opens her eyes again” and “her eyes well up with tears” the resulting incoherence is, as Lurie so poignantly writes, “...feels almost exactly like love.”


In the last poem of the collection, “And the Shoes Will Take Us There In Spite of the Circumference,” the speaker is told by a therapist that her son will “never be able to live within it [the world].” Here, again, the speaker of the poem struggles to see the world of someone far removed from their own. Here, again, the poem builds a bridge to unite perceptions.


The forms of each poem are organic to the world or reality of the poem. Ultimately this attention builds another layer of metaphor for each piece. For example, in the poem “The Door Opens Slightly,” the form mimics the action described in the poem. Each poem has the specificity of one that has been worked over and over until each element is in sync with the rest. Lurie writes:


It is just a crack
but through it I see
a table set
with a coffee cup
and a man
with his hand
beside hers
as she stirs his coffee
then kisses him softly

as if his lips are sacred texts

and I watch him read her

like Braille

and the wind blows
and the door closes

and I stand
in the breeze

like space

between trees.


Here, the poem’s lines are kept short in length and the stanza’s grow progressively shorter. The words literally appear to slip through cracks in the door. Lurie is conscious of the visual component of poetry; the way the words build off of one another visually affects sound and affects how the reader processes the poem.


In the poem “His Lips Bled When He Kissed Her,” Lurie uses slashes to accentuate the start-stop beat of the heart and consequently, of love. Lurie writes at the beginning of the poem:


she cut her heart out showed him the embroidery of her chest
aching with coarse black threads then the jar with her heart

he did not want the jar filled with formaldehyde/ did not want
the close view of auricles/ ventricles/ did not want the remaining
systole/ diastole


This poem’s slashes are the “embroidery of her chest”; they serve as the poem’s seams. The slashes represent the ripped seams and anatomy of this relationship. Again, the form of the poem and the dissection within lines offers another metaphorical layer.


It is this variation of form that keeps the collection moving; never does the reader feel as though they are reading the same poem over and over. Instead, Lurie weaves ideas like perception and decay into vastly different poems. Though the poems are linked, they are able to stand alone. The poems, like “letters from the lawn,” have a conversational intimacy that pulls the reader into a moment or perspective. The poems are concise; nothing seems tacked on or unnecessary. It is from these cloths of life that Lurie weaves a quilt of experience. Ultimately, the collection’s ability to move between worlds and perceptions are what set it apart. Though emotions may be familiar, the way in which they are framed are what make these “letters” worth reading.

Lisa Bower

Lisa Bower

Lisa Bower’s poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming The Southern Review, Subtropics, Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, Mid-American Review, The Hollins Critic, The Florida Review, and The Mississippi Review. She is allergic to many things, including tuna (chicken of the sea) and chicken (yes, really). Lisa currently lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

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