I-70 Review

Writing and Art from the Middle and Beyond

Alice Friman

Alice Friman's sixth full-length collection of poetry is The View from Saturn, 2014 from LSU Press. Her last book was Vinculum, LSU Press, for which she won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry. She is a recipient of a 2012 Pushcart Prize and is included in The Best American Poetry 2009. Other books include Inverted Fire, 1997, and The Book of the Rotten Daughter, 2006, both from BkMk Press, and Zoo, 1999, U of Arkansas Press, which won the Sheila Margaret Motton Prize from The New England Poetry Club and the Ezra Pound Poetry Award from Truman State University. She has also published four chapbooks.

Among Friman's other awards are three prizes from The Poetry Society of America: the Consuelo Ford Award, the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award, and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award. From The New England Poetry Club, she has received the  Gretchen Warren Award, the Firman Houghton Award, and, twice, the Erika Mumford Prize. She has also been awarded the 2001 James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah and the Ekphrasis Prize for Poetry 2012 from Ekphrasis. Friman has received fellowships from the Indiana Arts Commission, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, MacDowell, Yaddo, Millay, VCCA, and the Bernheim Foundation.

She has read her poems widely in such places as Julliard, Cornell, Georgia Tech, Purdue, U of Tennessee, Rhodes, as well as the U of Western Australia.

Her poems have been published in Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Boulevard, New Letters, The Southern Review, etc., including publications in thirteen other countries. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Movable Nest (Helicon Nine) and Sleeping with One Eye Open (U of Georgia Press) and in the journals Arts & Letters, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, and The Georgia Review. Professor Emerita of English and Creative Writing at the University of Indianapolis, Friman now lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College. Her podcast series Ask Alice is sponsored by the Georgia College MFA program and can be seen on You Tube.

Robin Becker in her review of Vinculum in The Women's Review of Books, writes: "Desire—emotional, intellectual, and sexual—fires Friman's narrators, who turn, for metaphor, to art, literature, music, and myth. Fortunately, a sharp humor undercuts Friman's erudition. Bawdy, self-mocking, startling, these poems surge with the poet's capacious appetite for building associations—which give the book great energy and verve, even as many pieces concern life's inevitable losses.

     ". . . To my eye and ear, Friman distinguishes herself from other contemporary poets by bringing a confident feminism and humor to her meditations. The sorrowful runs alongside the absurd; the living collide with the dead; the mythological clothes the mundane. Readers will find ourselves everywhere in this marvelous book."

On Style

To my way of thinking, your poetry matches who you are. Not just in the subject matter you choose or that chooses you, or in the words you select, but, more importantly, in the rhythm of the lines themselves—the cadences. Perhaps another way to talk about all that is to talk about "voice," but that label has become, I think, so used up that I'm not so sure we're all on the same page when we talk about it.  I'm talking about a poet's signature, one's DNA, if you will, of style. You can't fake it, it being so basic to the way you take in the world and speak about it. It's more akin to the way you walk or how you laugh or hold a fork. No two people do those things exactly the same way. So too, is the way the words come out, the way, in my case, the words struggle to come out, set themselves down on the page, adjust their skirts.

And because that signature, if you will, that DNA, is capacious—just as you are, since it is you—there's room in it for every one of your facets: humor, tragedy, melancholy, lust, even wickedness. Yes, even that. Poetry being the great permission, there's room for everything. I see so many beginning writers who are tied up in knots with all their "thou-shalt-nots." I suppose it's easier to teach what you shouldn't do, than say, Go ahead, do anything, just remember to be true to your vision whatever it is, and don't be satisfied with not quite getting close enough to it. This, of course, means lots of rewriting. Trying to find the words to chisel out that vision you see in your mind's eye or what you see in front of you, and how you do that, how you forge that over the years, becomes, eventually, your "style."

Tracing Back

In the history of reading,

there's many a cracked heart,

lost letter, stopped clock, cut wrist.  

Any cursory push through poems

or stories and you could trip

over the drownings

or the heap of crushed

petticoats fluttering on the tracks.

To the bookish, I say careful.

What's between two covers

can creep beneath covers.  

Any thief worth his prize

knows how seduction works:

ingratiation: the innocent pull

of words, that belly crawl

of language. What do you

think that first slither was

coiling the winesap,

so lovely, our girl was forced

to write it down, there

on the underside of leaves.

Hers, to sneak past the terrible

gates, hidden in the rustle

of her figgy apron: the key

to what she didn't know yet

but would be looking for

in all her troubled incarnations.

Winner of a 2012 Pushcart Prize.

First published in The Gettysburg

Review and reprinted in The View

from Saturn, LSU, 2014.

Seeing It Through

Presto the magician

drops his handkerchief

and amazingly I'm looking down

seventy years. Down

as from the top of a winding stair     

vertigoing to the bottom

where the child struggles to mount

crawling on her knees that first step.

And I want to say Wait

I'll come down

carry you up

for I need you here

now that the banister is nearing

its finial and I can see

the rituals of the sky                     

speeding up through the almost

reachable skylight.

Honey hair and the sunsuit

Mother made from a scrap. Come.

If I hold you high, you can touch

the glass. Let the last contact

be a baby's hand. Why not?

All things come around

replete with rage and rattle.

First published in Poetry. Reprinted in

Vinculum, LSU, 2011.

Red Camellia

The bush has reaped her reward:

she cannot hold up her arms. A salute

to her location at the corner of the house

where the sun is beguiled to stop all day,

and the wasp tending its cells under

the shed roof swoons at the riot of red

multiplying in its compound eyes.                                                 


March has finally given way,

and spring in Georgia, primed

with lascivious plumpings,

has sent word: we've little time.  

The camellia has waited all year

locked in her thin verticals

for the sun's first hot speech.  

Now she answers—one voice

blowing from two-hundred mouths.

Love, I want to talk camellia talk,

quick, before summer's endless

conscription in a green uniform—

that stifling march into fall.  

Speak to me. Be my sun, my day star.  

Look into my eyes until I'm lost to sight,

then juice me up red and barbarous:

a phalanx of redcoats, a four-alarm fire.  

I'm tired of pork roasts and ease

in an easy chair. Bring me one more

season. A reason. Bring it in your hands.

First published in The Georgia Review,

reprinted in Vinculum, 2011.

The Night I Saw Saturn

Crossing the Pacific, flying backward

into perpetual night, and all night

one light on in the plane, a young man

beneath, scribbling. I am looking out

the window, the glass prism that shatters

the stars, and we at thirty thousand feet

not flying up but seemingly across

and headed straight toward it—Orpheus

of the night sky—the rock that sings.

What is he writing, that man

who can't sleep so doesn't even try,

stuck in an inner section, unable

to indulge in a window reverie, leaning

his head as I do against the glass?

The night I saw Saturn was because

I pleaded. Before I die I want to see…

and the astronomer complied, there

on the top of Mauna Kea, and me

shivering in all the clothes I had

and hanging on because I couldn't

see my feet, so dark it was as I set

my eye to the metal eyepiece.  

Then, true to the pictures in my

schoolbooks or the planetarium's

mockup, only luminous, radiating

more energy into space than received

from the sun. Ah Saturn, grandfather

of Love, what do scientists know

of the light that lights the pearl? Beauty's

absolute, cold white and burning in the sky.

And now, this man, the only light

in the plane, ringed by huddles of sleepers

as if he were guardian of the oblivious

awake for us all. How furiously

he bends to his work. How lovely

the light lingering on the shock of his hair

holds him—incandescent—reflecting in rings.  

First published in The Southern Review,

reprinted in The View from Saturn, LSU, 2014.

Getting Serious

Today I started looking for my soul.

Yesterday it was my keys.  Last week,

my brain which I couldn't find, it being out

looking for me, now that I'm getting so old.  


First I thought my soul would have gone

back to Greece where she grew so tall and straight

she thought she was a column.  Or back to camp,

being forever twelve and underdeveloped.

Perhaps, being careless, I left her during the 70s

in bed with God knows whom.  Or could be

I buried her with my mother—my head not being right—

but that was my heart.  

So I went to where I know      

I saw her last.  Radio City Music Hall.

I'm six, my feet barely brushing the floor,

and the Rockettes start shuffling out, long-

legged and perfect as paper dolls kicking up

down in a wave.  One body with seventy-two knees

chugging like pistons going back in a forever mirror,

same as in Coney Island's Fun House or on Mama's can

of Dutch Cleanser.  And my heart flexed in me, a sail,

and I swear I saw it flying out of my chest

spiriting away my giddy soul, ears plugged and tied      

to the mast:  I can't hear you I can't hear you.

Included in The Best American Poetry, 2009. First

published in Ploughshares, reprinted in Vinculum,

LSU, 2011.

At the Rothko Chapel     


Houston, Texas                                                            

What is the portrait of Nothing

but the night sky without a star.  

An abstraction real as a hit on the head

or a hunk of bread bitten off hungry

with the back teeth.  


But if Nothing means absence,

that's another story. Then the portrait

must hint at what beat there, the last thrum

before dying, the last shadow of the last

rope frayed out.                 


Fourteen black paintings

in a surround with no escape. Fourteen

portraits of the face of Nothing or  

of an absence so unbearable, Nothing

saw fit to pour in.                                                              


One can't help but want a spit

of yellow or a Pollack drip of red  

to latch onto, to say, this being a chapel,

something must eulogize the life's colors

of what mattered.

Outside the entrance, a display

of holy books—your choice to borrow,  

take in with you. An amulet to ward off

the emptiness by holding a book    

which denies it.

Rothko knew what he was doing.  

Sit here and look. Here where the benches

are hard, the floor stone, blocks of stone

trailing footsteps of fading echo

unlike the colors

you strain to see but can't,

being bled out—that Wednesday, right

across both arms. What he said art is:

The simple expression of a complex thought.

Simple. Straight as a razor.

First published in Prairie Schooner, reprinted in

The View from Saturn, LSU, 2014.