Jeff Fried­man
  • Review
By – October 6, 2014

Friedman’s poems address a wide range of top­ics and sit­u­a­tions, from pet birds to bear suits to sit­ting shi­va, but Pre­tenders is at its best when it is bold­ly and bald­ly political.“If you want to know the future, / ask a bro­ker,” Fried­man writes in Bro­kers”: Bro­kers win wars, emp­ty graves so they can fill them again.” In a world where futures are trad­ed and mon­ey talks, Fried­man implies, lan­guage is often the lev­el on which vio­lence and injus­tice take place, or where they find jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. To para­phrase T.S. Eliot, this the way the world ends — not with a bang, but with a euphemism. Fried­man strikes this apoc­a­lyp­tic tone again in Out­age”: The war bet on itself to win / and cashed in big time, … and then the whole / damn uni­verse crashed.” In The Ser­pent,” Fried­man com­bines para­ble with polit­i­cal state­ment: The ser­pent offers you a deal / on an apple. Take it,’ he says. / It won’t eat you,’ but it does.” 

Against such bold state­ments about West­ern con­sumer cul­ture, Friedman’s more per­son­al poems, many of which strike quite inti­mate notes, can seem sur­pris­ing. On Sex” is a play­ful, con­fes­sion­al explo­ration of the barbed exchanges that can occur between lovers. Note to Self on Get­ting Fired” is just what its title sug­gests. In Good News,” the speak­er scans his life of sick­ness, fear, and Occu­py Wall Street, ulti­mate­ly deter­min­ing, Good news is far away and trav­els slow­ly.” It is some­what dif­fi­cult to square the bum­bling speak­er of these worka­day poems with the sharp­er, more direct and polit­i­cal­ly inci­sive speak­er of poems like Bro­kers” and Out­age.”

A quick note about the book’s edit­ing seems nec­es­sary: though the vol­ume is nice­ly orga­nized and laid out, it con­tains many typo­graphical errors, par­tic­u­lar­ly for such a short book. At times, miss­ing com­mas, dash­es, and quo­ta­tion marks could cause con­fu­sion and mis­read­ing, which is a shame giv­en the care­ful and var­i­ous tonal reg­is­ters of the poems.

Relat­ed content:

Lucy Bie­der­man is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of cre­ative writ­ing at Hei­del­berg Uni­ver­si­ty in Tif­fin, Ohio. Her first book, The Wal­mart Book of the Dead, won the 2017 Vine Leaves Press Vignette Award.

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