Having read a few Michael Marrotti poems online, I embarked on F.D.A. Approved Poetry, a self-published chapbook of twenty-four poems, with a substantial level of reserve. By the author’s reputation, along with the book’s title and cover image – a scattering of pharmaceutical drugs – I expected not much more than self-congratulating masturbation. At this point in my life, I’ve reached the easy conclusion that I require more from art than gratuity. Reading another set of poems by a bubble head, boasting about drug consumption, is of no interest to me whatsoever.
At face value this book could be described as a set of drug poems, but the boasting is measured, the masturbation is minimal and Marrotti is not the bubble-headed braggart I thought he might be.
Void of pre-emptive waffle, the premise for this autobiographical account is solidified in the first poem’s opening stanza.
I feel lethargy
after the long haul
on the prowl again
to replenish all
the pills I’ve eaten
(from The Inevitability Of Narcotics, p4)
This poem, far from boastful, is a confession of vulnerability, an admission of regret and consequence. The poet describes the empty routine of being mastered by his addiction where he is “mummified in / wet blankets from / drops of sweat.” This scene-setting poem and most of the poems that follow are antithetical of the self-praising twaddle I had half-expected. Moreover, the poems here are multifaceted, while the latter stages of addiction are at the forefront, the underlying themes of loneliness and control are ever-present and reflective of what it means to be a part of a fractured society. The poem concludes in the stead with which it began, “I find myself / here periodically / desperate as / a convicted felon / pleading not guilty…one cage to another / living a life of fees / crawling out / of an orange bottle.”
Marrotti’s addiction is a two-faced friend and a deceptive lover; demanding, treacherous, beautiful and an impossibly hard taskmaster. She is a mess of contradictions, all of which are fully embraced. The drug of choice, a member of the opiate family, becomes background information as the essential component – a man’s unhealthy relationship with addiction – establishes itself as the book’s focal point.
Some say I have a
I tell those
I have the
(from Three Refills Remaining, p5)
The addict in these poems, true to the trickery of his illness, is accepting of his condition, comfortable in his denial and makes a crutch out of his absurd contempt for recovery. And here lies the aforementioned, measured boasting and minimal masturbation. As stand-alone poems, some of these pieces might well be interpreted as gratuitous. As part of the wider text they are still gratuitous, and rightly so; to self-medicate is to self-comfort. Substance misuse is masturbatory by very nature and to exclude it from this collection would result in an incomplete account.
(from White Clouds Of Elation, p6)
In the poem, Pharmaceutical Pleasure, there is a longing so desperate that to know it, is to never be the same again. The reliance on the substance alters the individual’s psyche, to the point where the object of desire becomes an intrinsic part of the addict’s core existence. Once this level of dependence is established, sobriety becomes an unattainable goal; unless the afflicted is prepared to strip everything of himself away and start all over again.
I can smell it
from a block away
as the rain drips
from the dark skies
to be had
once I make
grinding it down
dust to dust
(from Pharmaceutical Pleasure, p8)
In the poem, Misery Of Living, the longing surpasses the need for opiates and stems from a deeply human place. It is a yearning for completion, for meaning, for answers to questions the seeker can not comprehend, let alone, articulate. The addict relies on a temporary fix for a permanent problem. Ultimately, it is a solution which only serves to perpetuate isolation and loneliness. In the poem, The Cleansing, drugs are “filthy” and “parasitic.” In, The Cure, the addict is killing himself to exist. And in, Fight Of My Life, there is little solace in winning a couple of battles within a hopeless war. These are not the words of a casual drug user, these are the confessions of an opiate fiend whose primary concern is to shut down; to become numb. The numbness here, though, is not one of euphoria. Opiate induced numbness is complete. It is the removal of joy, sadness and any experience on the emotional spectrum between the two.
Light Of Life
but God is
still a stranger
…I feel at one
when I’m in
In a way
(from Misery Of Living, p9)
F.D.A. Approved Poetry is a strange combination of truths, all of which are contradictory. The narrator spirals out of control in a quest for control. He is too high to come down yet too low to obtain a sufficient high. He is desensitised while undeniably sensitive to any kind of long-lasting reality. He is appalled by the redundancy of modern life. He runs from the crushing boredom of the nine-to-five existence. For him, structured routine is abhorrent and worthless. In the end, though, his bid for escape finds him in the clutches of the most structured, crushing, abhorrent and worthless routine of all.
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