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Big Men Speaking to Little Men

Philip Fried

ISBN: 1 903392 55 1

Page Count: 104

Publication Date: Saturday, April 01, 2006

Cover Artwork: Lynn Saville

About this Book

Big Men Speaking to Little Men begins in World War II Atlanta, Georgia, as the poet's birth is punctuated by a home run swatted out of a local stadium. That baseball hangs in the mythic Southern sky and simultaneously arcs forward into the poet's historical time. As the book unfolds, myth and history haunt such true and imagined places as a Hudson Valley high school where Ralph Waldo Emerson is reincarnated as a science teacher, a Bronx apartment where a small boy becomes a mirror to please his mother, and a Paris square where Victor Hugo plays hopscotch to achieve utopia. Throughout, Philip Fried explores with humor and compassion the intersection of personal myth and historical moment. He listens for the dialogue between "big men" and "little men" that helps define the self in history and the history of the self.

Philip Fried has the voice of an affectionate ironist and the wry ways of an urbane wit; but what Philip Fried also employs in this collection is an almost surgically keen deftness for giving us back the awful beauty of human circumstance. Some of the images here, quite literally, made me gasp with delight.
Phyllis Tickle, compiler, The Divine Hours

Philip Fried's new book represents much of what I admire in contemporary American poetry. Multi-layered but never opaque, these poems move gracefully from forest to subway, from a suburban drive-in to the Rodin museum, from post-war discovery to pre-war doubt. Fried's is a Jamesian view of this country and other places, where history is a companion at almost every table, an observer in the schoolroom, in the next seat at the theatre, where wit is tinged with tragedy and vice versa.
Marilyn Hacker

The poet invites us to consider that "the universe may have been / someone's orchard overgrown / now with herbs and loosestrife." This beautiful suggestion is characteristic of a collection which opens doors to a world we thought we knew but now discover to be a stranger yet wiser environment where we discover new selves, sharing, in Fried's words, "a mind / that everyone has, / that no one has..."
Penelope Shuttle

Philip Fried's poems go extraordinarily deep, with such a light touch - Big Men Speaking to Little Men is a delight but also a zeitgeist exploration of stunning originality and scope. Fried can move effortlessly from Victor Hugo to Freud, but there's nothing cerebral about the unnerving world he evokes, where "everywhere we go the chairs / worship in the empty cathedrals"; it's the world we've been living in without knowing it. "The Death of the Watchman," "Family Is a Stand of Talking Trees" - these are poems that define an arc, an ambitious engagement with the unknown. Fried's new book is a gentle but razor-sharp introduction to our new century.
D. Nurkse

Author Biography

Philip Fried is a New York-based poet, magazine editor, and poetry advocate. Fried's poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry After 9-11: An Anthology of New York Poets. His two previous books of poetry are Mutual Trespasses (1988) and Quantum Genesis (1997), which A.R. Ammons called "a major new testament." In addition to being a poet, Fried is the founding editor of The Manhattan Review, an international poetry journal that critics have called "excellent" and "lively." And he collaborated with his wife, the fine-art photographer Lynn Saville, on a volume combining her nocturnal photographs with poetry from around the world: Acquainted with the Night (Rizzoli, 1997). Finally, as a poetry advocate, Fried organized a successful nationwide campaign to increase the number and quality of poetry reviews in The New York Times.

Read a sample from this book

The Kibitzer

My name is the chair I've sat in all my life
while the games spun by as if on a lazy Susan:

scrabble, fast-pitch softball, seven-card stud.
In physics, which gives us the rules of the house, it is written,

Irresistible forces encounter the kibitzer.
(Sir Isaac tutored the apple all the way down.)

So the jiggles and jukes, the rules and the statistics
are grist for my godlike witness and niggling chorus,

and with twitchy omnipotence, I'll give you the scoop
on shuffleboard: propel the cue then stop . . .

the disc will glide then hover over the well
of emptiness beneath the painted numbers.

Calm down, my nervous father coached. He knew
that Yiddish has as many words for anxiety

as the Inuit language does for types of snow.
And the play could always drift into the stands. I know

and bring a foul mouth to the game, but also a glove.


Review on Publishers Weekly Online
19th June 2006

"Do I not bleed? Do I not commute?" asks Fried, who goes on to say, "my many selves travel." His layered third collection superimposes the imaginary on the actual, the sacred on the profane, and the comic on the tragic in 54 shapely poems that follow these traveling selves. From India to the Jersey Shore, from an airport's imagined saint - "Our Lady of Every Destination" - to Victor Hugo playing hopscotch, Fried, who is the founding editor of The Manhattan Review, attempts to transform "the world's infantile, satisfied babble" into something legible. A bit of fool's gold becomes a way to consider "the false / facet of self that would sell"; an old drive-in theater's speaker stands become "graves in the heart's Arlington." There is no parsing the real from the surreal in these poems, as when people talking on mobile phones while looking at Rodin's sculptures suddenly speak across space and time with the dead, and a statue's penis is mistaken for a handset. Fried (Quantum Genesis, 1997) has to inhabit these other selves in order to find what he's looking for: "an elsewhere interwoven / with here and everlastingly now."

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