Review: Early/Late: New & Selected Poems reviewed in Poet Lore, Fall/Winter, 2012, Vol. 107, Nos. ¾
by Debra Wierenga
Recently published works by five Poet Lore poets illuminate our everyday relationships with nature, cities, technology, and each other. The first of these, Philip Fried’s Early/Late, begins with new poems by the Manhattan-based poet, then presents selections from his earlier works in chronological order—an arrangement that lets the reader experience the poet’s most recent creative output and trace its thematic roots back through time.
Fried has always played fast and loose with Biblical themes and forms, mixing them with the jargon and jingles of modern-day capitalism to startling effect. Poems from his first collection, Mutual Trespasses, profile a hapless deity whose creation has surpassed him technologically—
and whose dreams expand with the thrust of a fireball
but who cannot lift a pinky to mend the sheath
of a single neuron torn from its groove in muscle.
Book by book, we watch the poet make more audacious leaps between archaic and contemporary language and concerns until, in his most recently published work, Cohort, he reclaims the sonnet form to rewrite Psalms for a digital age:
By Babylon’s flow-charts I sat down and wept, far
from home, my player-piano hands still appeasing
data-gods with the ragtime of input, clicks
(“By Babylon’s flow-charts….”)
Or to create a mash-up of Walt Whitman and accounting (in a poem that first appeared in Poet Lore):
This is to certify that I celebrate
myself and sing myself, per the contract,
in conformance with your estimate
of me, and in compliance with best practices.
In his new poems, collected under the title “The Emanation Crunch,” Fried abandons traditional poetic forms for the structures of commercial communications: the business prospectus, the branding strategy statement, the travel brochure—even tweets (from you know Who):
A man or a woman, afraid with any sudden
chance of fire or of man’s death is driven
to cry or to pray after help. Yea, how?
(“Following Him on Twitter”)
In a recent interview with Steven Duesner, published in The Washington Post’s “Express,” Fried explained that he likes to make “different linguistic registers collide, like in plate tectonics, in the hopes that they’ll create a tremor and the tremor itself will be the poetry.” This collection is full of unsettling tremors.
Review: Philip Fried’s Early/Late: New and Selected Poems reviewed by Tim Liardet for The Warwick Review (December 2011, pp. 111-112)
Philip Fried’s New and Selected Poems, launched in Salmon Poetry’s sumptuous livery, spans twenty-three years and constitutes a truly expressive body of work. Since 1988, Fried’s deeply subversive intelligence has produced poems of unsettling originality, un-American perhaps, in their sweep, more European in substance and diction. Fried is in many ways the éminence grise of transatlantic poetry, editing essentially under his own steam the equally original, equally subversive The Manhattan Review for thirty-one years, since 1980. Both this new Selected and the much revered journal prove beyond all doubt what a big heart for poetry he has; what an eye for the power of synthesis, what a will for the breaking down of false boundaries.
His work has always been fired by exemplary politics. This means many things. Firstly, that he is very convincingly at home with the first person plural (…And we seek rest in this thing that is everything, but so little,/where no rest is); secondly, that he clearly feels civic accountability is an organic part of his poetics; and, thirdly, that he is alive to the cut and shift of the world, its risibility in particular, its destructiveness and contradictions in general. This leads him by instinct first to satire, I think, then to a savagely evolved irony:
I regret to inform you that, in the purview of immutable discretion, it has become
necessary to downsize the elect.
It may seem strange that of the great body of humankind some like yourself,
predestined to salvation, should be laid off […]
In the course of the two decades this book spans he has probably become more formal, seeming to imply that the restless artistic energy he is gifted with thrives most upon more compressed forms. By 2009, in Cohort, this leads him to the sonnet in all its paradoxical possibilities. This collection was largely comprised of sonnets and Fried proves the extent to which the form can come to talk easy, subdued at last into colloquy:
This sonnet is ultra-modern, rhetoric-free
during normal use, nor will it drip
with maudlin emotion. Its verbal polish resists
blurring, garbling, incoherency.
It’s hard to do justice to so distinguished a Selected in so few words. Suffice it to say Early/Late: New and Selected Poems comes warmly recommended.
Wry philosopher, keen observer, funny-serious-fabulous poet, Fried borrows from sources ranging from the public apologies of politicians, to John Calvin, to The New York Review of Books. One poem presents the memo by which the elect find themselves downsized, though Management wishes them “every success” in their “post-salvation existence.” We’re told “God is confused about religion.” Fried even puts words in God’s mouth: “Doctor,” He says in one, “my case is unique,/ humanity has broken out/on me like a scarlet rash….” In realms between and including the Almighty and actuarial tables, Fried speaks every language faithfully and eloquently. Rejoice! Read!