David Joel Friedman
University of Illinois Presswww.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog
96Pages; Print, $15.95
David Joel Friedman
72Pages; Print, $12.00
Of David Joel Friedman’s four books, two are long, two are short. One of the short chapbooks, Seven (2011), is tiny. From The Welcome (2006) through Soldier Quick with Rain (2013) there is a continuity of purpose and practice that is remarkable. Each book contains prose poems and only prose poems that nonetheless read quite clearly as poetic.
They are poetic, because they contain thousands of unusual words, thus fulfilling T. S. Eliot’s edict that the poet keep the words of English speech alive and vivid. They are poetic, because their rhetoric is as emphatic and organizing a principle as Wallace Stevens’s in Harmonium (1923). There is poetry even behind the rhetoric and vocabulary—a sort of quicksilver feeling.
Many of Friedman’s prose poems are stories about a Green Bear. He is a brilliant disguise for a shy author who can recount his triumphs, failures and muddlings-through without the boastful “I” or “You” so prevalent in modern American poetry. The contemporary poet is often addressing herself as a double—“You”—in a way that almost slaps the reader in the face. “NOT you,” she means, “I’M you. This is all about ME.”
Friedman’s Green Bear is a most endearing character, at times a sort of Babar of gentility, but most often a stalwart hero of adventure—of wars, ocean voyages, trips to the moon, explorations and encounters of all sorts.
Most of the technical words from All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) and Two Years Before The Mast (1840) turn up here—nautical terms, military terms, terms of archaic weaponry, Shakespearean diction, along with colloquial words like “i-chat,” wonderfully mixed. Fragments of conversations appear and disappear. There is a whole prose poem to prove that all the world is coffee (one pictures the narrator leaving his Grove Street apartment and hitting each coffee bar in the Village until he is in a state of caffeinated ecstasy.)
In The Welcome, chosen in 2004 for the National Poetry Series by Stephen Dunn, we find “A Brace of Firearms” which shows us one of Friedman’s verbal games, an exercise in parallel expressions for a group of individuals—“a brace of pistols”, “a pride of lions,” “a pack of wolves,” “a nest of vipers.” Of the Green Bear, he writes: “Since there was only one of him, he deserved a brace of pistols to fight a pride of lions.” “Typewriter” is a complete tour de force of typewriter lingo:
I am a typewriter. Practically an antique. Before I pass into oblivion, let me assert myself; so you may come to honor in passing the machine that has been a good companion to writers. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their typewriters. In my sculpted black steel body I house as zany a bunch of characters as you might want to meet, from A to Z; plus enough signs, symbols and numbers to read the future without animal entrails. I get good character references (this being one of them) despite the fact that I am occasionally shiftless. Upper or lower, I’m a case in point. If you keep tabs on me, you’ll find that I’m usually all keyed up. Nevertheless I travel in style, by carriage to the margins of existence. Feed me the old papyrus; I will produce literature (or camp or trash or tractate). Carbon paper, with whom I always had an uneasy relationship, has gone the way of the quill pen. Keep my platen clean, and I’ll always be on a roll. Stop by for a drink at my Space Bar (far out); try an ink cocktail, otherwise known as a Typewriter Mary. Scotch whiskey will clean my keys and your whistle. Rubbing alcohol makes a good (but lethal) chaser and will also clean your keys. Apply the proper dose of White-Out, and I...