Work­ing in Flour

Jeff Fried­man
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
How does hope sur­vive the vicis­si­tudes of life? Jeff Friedman’s abil­i­ty to laugh and cry at the same time res­onates deeply. These poems are cel­e­bra­to­ry and com­ic para­bles of ful­ly embrac­ing a com­plex, often mys­te­ri­ous exis­tence, an embrace full of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish read­ers alike. The cri­te­ria for such an approach is a type of rebel­lion or dif­fer­ent point of view, as in I Did It,” where the poet emp­ties the choco­late sam­ple dish with­out buy­ing, ques­tions the wait­ress about the spe­cials” to the point where she dis­ap­pears rather than bear with his quar­rel­some nit­pick­ing, and more that might be typ­i­cal­ly annoy­ing behav­ior or might be so much more that will not brook blind accep­tance of the norm. Or in a beau­ti­ful poem enti­tled Hagar,” the poet describes the real con­flict between Hagar and Sarah over Abra­ham, as their sons remained embit­tered ene­mies, She want­ed the future. I want­ed you.” Per­haps the dream is the con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can Jew­ish one in Cash­ing In,” I step inside my father’s dream/​and lis­ten, We’ll be so rich/we’ll live in a hotel./We’ll be so rich…’” Per­haps it’s the com­i­cal yet to some ultra-seri­ous ter­ror of dat­ing and wed­ding out­side of the ultra-Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty, solved in a con­tem­po­rary response, “”My father took me aside,/putting two fin­gers up to his lips/​in our house of mourning,/’You want to get ahead with the goyim,’/he whis­pered, you got­ta learn/​to play a lit­tle golf.’” Irrev­er­ent rev­er­ence, indeed — a delight­ful collection.
Deb­o­rah Schoen­e­man, is a for­mer Eng­lish teacher/​Writing Across the Cur­ricu­lum Cen­ter Coor­di­na­tor at North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my High School and coed­i­tor of Mod­ern Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture: A Library of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism, Vol. VI, pub­lished in 1997.

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