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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review: Michael Marrotti FDA Approved Poetry (Create Space, 2016) 42 pages

This is the first collection of poetry by the Pittsburgh poet, Michael Marrotti. The book consists of 24 confessional poems which candidly reveal Marrotti’s “chemical imbalance” and his use of prescription and other “bonus” drugs to help stabilise his wildly caustic moods. The persona of the poems, Marrotti, wavers between a bored, limp-dicked lethargy when drying out and a manic, defiant boisterousness that can only be calmed through a flush of pills.

The title FDA Approved Poetry is an obvious reference to Marrotti’s use of prescription drugs. FDA refers to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration which is a federal department responsible for protecting public health through the control and supervision of many items, including food, tobacco, as well as prescription and over the counter pharmaceutical drugs. Marrotti says of the title, “I have a chemical imbalance. I’ve decided to combat my disorder with chemistry, safe chemistry, hence the title. I’ve never been a gambling man. The FDA gives the general public the courtesy of knowing if harmful side effects occur in the approved medications.”

The front cover of the book is predominately black with the reader’s main focus on an orange pill container which has twenty or so anonymous white prescription pills spilled out on a table.

The book is curiously prefaced by a quote from Joseph Bonanna, who was a New York City mob boss: “True power is self control.” The book is largely about Marrotti’s struggle with his mental condition and whether he can muster enough inner strength to master his addiction to prescribed pills. Like millions of other Americans, pills bring him temporary calm and order but also subjugation. Marrotti expresses best this dilemma at the conclusion of the poem, “Take One Three Times A Day”:

This dependency
is slavery
but it’s the only
form I know
that offers

FDA Approved Poetry was self published by Marrotti through Create Space. Marrotti, like many a young (and older) writer, recently explained to me his frustration and impatience in seeing his work in print, “I’ve had all the luck in the world when it comes to digital publications. For some odd reason when it comes to paper and ink, suddenly my writing is insufficient. I probably could’ve found a publisher had I felt like waiting for another year.”

In a later rant, he spat the dummy after discovering how the American poet Jack Henry abandoned writing after the publication of his harrowing tale of meth addition in his outstanding book CRUNKED: “This fucking small press scene is ridiculous. It’s like all the throw away books get accolades, and the noteworthy ones are discarded like condoms. Makes no sense to me.”

I have read a few books related to and inspired by illicit drug use but this is the first book I’ve read about the taking and subsequent addiction to registered quack prescribed drugs. This issue is highly relevant, particularly in view of America’s for profit driven health economy. It is far cheaper for health insurers to prescribe pills than to provide on-going, quality face-to-face consultations to its clients. 

Marrotti is reticent to reveal his specific mental condition or the medications he has been prescribed, but says of his intent, “Anyone who’s familiar with drug culture will appreciate this book. The purpose of the book is to entertain, enlighten and safely express myself. Readership wouldn’t be bad either. For me, poetry is a viable alternative to violence. I come from a hostile past. Plenty of people have been injured, including myself. There’s a scar underneath my left eye to prove it.”

In FDA Approved Poetry, you will find the occasional reference related to the grinding of pills and the snorting of lines, but typically the drug taking is described in a clinical, by-the-book way. The daily fucked-up life of a pill-popper is frayed open on every page- the isolation, the sense of panic & desperation of getting scrips filled and the constant stomping on the face of the human spirit by the authorities.

We come to understand better the comfort of the legal highs delivered to the disaffected. The poem “Take One Three Times A Day” aptly describes the soothing nature of the pharmaceutical drugs:

Chemicals flow
down the stream
of disorder

Dissolving in a
matter of minutes
a mitigation of
countless hours

these caustic feelings
they’ve been by
my side throughout
this tumultuous journey

Similarly, in “Whiteness Without The Guilt,” Marrotti metaphorically describes his packet of his pills as:


in my pocket
the guilt

A bitter
taste that
the bitterness
of the past

It lasts long
enough to
make it stop

In “The Chemical Rebellion” Marrotti interestingly shows how his pocket of pills can also inflate his ego to the extent that he sees himself as some kind of prescription pill outlaw, ready to take on the deplorable filth of the planet:

The Chemical Rebellion

Today was an
extraordinary day
it wasn’t like the rest
those other days
just sucked

Sucked the life
right out of you

But not today
for the
is near

With this bottle
and these straws
we rebel against
the atrocities of
this callous planet

In solidarity we blow
like the wind
to separate ourselves
from the filth

We blow like a hurricane
until we transcend
looking down
upon them

We blow until our minds
are expunged of all
deplorable human

Blowing it away
euphoria, a sweet euphoria
it’s extraordinary
days like these
that even the losers
have an opportunity
to win

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

Some of the stronger poems in the collection are those written by Marrotti when he is off the chemical shit. Poems, such as, “The Cleansing”, “My Brain Without Drugs”, “The Inevitability of Drugs”, “Two Disorders Don’t Make A Right” allow the poet to place a broader perspective on events and to speak more clearly about his own fallibilities. In “The Drought”, the last poem in the collection, he makes some personally penetrating observations about the road ahead as he attempts to get straight:

The Drought

I’ve been stuck
in a tunnel for seven days
looking for a glimpse
of sunshine
or a feeling that once was
if only I could replace
lethargy with luck
I’d be one step closer
To my favourite destination

The more I travel
the more I lose touch
with who I was
where I was going
and what I’ve become

Reluctantly working
for my own independence
this is a fateful choice
I would never voluntarily

Here I stagger
as I attempt
to get straight
in every crooked path
or faithless thought
my self inflicted struggle
crawling like the parasites
who capitalize off others
until they reached their peak

I’ll get back to the top
if I have to construct
my own ladder

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

In the end, Michael Marrotti is ambivalent towards the drugs he has downed and does not let the reader in as to whether he has cured his dependence. In “White Clouds Of Elation” he disdainfully says: “only a/ follower/ would/ submit/to/ program,” and in a later poem “ Better Living Through Chemistry,” adds: “the only thing/ that’s for sure/ is the chemicals/ and refills/ inside this little bottle.” In “My Brain Without Drugs” he further expresses that he has no regrets about what he has achieved in the past:

I gotta say for the most part
I enjoyed the ride
nothing says achievement
like time well wasted

Wasted I was

These are gritty poems, largely devoid of humour.  In “Fight Of My Life” Marrotti concedes that he’s “swallowed/ thousands/ of pills” and fought and drank and fucked but, “It’s a losing battle/ I never seem to win.” Yet amongst this sense of bleakness and despair, Marrotti discovers in his words moments of hope, transcendence and the occasional orgasm.

I’d be lying if I said this book was flawless because it is raw and shit full of gaping holes. But here you have another example of a young man prepared to stick his neck out on the block and spill his life’s blood onto the page. As Marrotti momentously expressed in a recent edition of Indiana Voice Journal, “I have no inclination to partake in a pretentious event. I’m not writing to impress the competition. I’m writing to express the agony of living in this callous world of redundancy.”

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