Featured Poet: Jeffrey Friedman, West Lebanon
Jeff Friedman is the author of four collections of poetry: Black Threads
(Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007), Taking Down the Angel (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003), Scattering the Ashes (selected in the open competition for the Carnegie Mellon University Press Poetry Series, 1998) and The Record-Breaking Heat Wave (BkMk Press-University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1986).
His poems and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including
American Poetry Review, Poetry, 5AM, Agni Online, and The New Republic. His
poems have also appeared internationally in Israel, Canada and Sweden and have
been featured on Poetry Daily. He has won two Fellowships from the New Hampshire State Arts Council, the Editor's Prize from The Missouri Review and the Milton Dorfman Poetry Prize. He has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts the Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.
In 2003 he was the Distinguished Poet-In-Residence in the M.F.A. program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A core faculty member in the M.F.A. Program in Poetry Writing at New England College, he lives in West Lebanon with the painter Colleen Randall and their dog Bekka.
About his featured poem, Jeff writes:
I think the poem began when the poet Gerald Stern turned to me at breakfast one morning during a New England College M.F.A. residency and said, “But is it good for the Jews?" I immediately broke into laughter because this reminded me of my mother and father, aunts and uncles and friends, all of whom would ask this question repeatedly after watching almost any news report on TV. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, and the memory of the Holocaust greatly affected our way of life and our identities as Jewish Americans. I started writing the poem with the refrain, “Give me back.” The music drove the poem forward, connecting all the stories and images. Through the music, the world of the poem kept growing, taking in more stories, more history, more time and space. By the end of the poem, the speaker wants everything that has been lost back; it’s a memorial to the world of our fathers and mothers, a lost world that had its beauty as well as its atrocity. The poem is about love and loss, which is the real subject of most poems.
The Long Heat Wave
for Gerald Stern
Give me back the long heat wave, the sweat dripping
from eyelashes, the stained blouses, the black windows,
the spiders dangling from their silver bridges,
the wasps lighting on the branches of the cedar bushes
as they waited for me to make a dash for the screen door.
Give me back Herman Meltzer, our upstairs neighbor,
who forged his last check with a flourish before the police
took him away in his checked pajamas, handcuffed.
Give me back Hanna Gorelick in her red satin robe,
her hair in rollers; and Cathy Cowser naked in front of the window;
and “A Day in the Life” with its scratches and pops,
John Lennon singing “I read the news today, oh boy…”;
and my thick brown hair—every morning
I brushed it down so hard my scalp stung, but the curls
sprung up before I left the bathroom mirror;
and my father warning the butcher at Sherman’s Deli
not to trim off too much fat from the corned beef.
And give me back Barbie Silverman’s long smooth legs
in her black short shorts, the Santa Maria rising from
the bottom of the river, the goddess undressing in the eye of the Arch
as the rabbis chanted to the brown muddy water.
Give me back the blue butterflies streaming
through the emptiness above the tall white sycamores,
the speckled blackbirds shitting on the Handshears’
new Oldsmobile, no matter where they parked.
Give me back my mother balancing her checkbook at the kitchen table—
“Everyone in Israel is beautiful,” she says; and
my father in his shorts, thumbing through
a thumb-size version of The New Testament and
marking in red the passages he would use to make his sales pitch to the goyim,
raising his fist to the TV tube every time he hears
another special report—“But is it good for the Jews?”—
and my sister with her thick black hair,
waiting by the silent phone for a date to call.
Give me back the burning red coils in the sky, the plague of locusts,
God railing into the wind, the dark news that floats through the windows,
the spark of light at the beginning of our world.
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