Friday, July 13, 2012

Interview with Poet David Joel Friedman

Michael T. Young: Thank you, David, for this chance to talk about your poetry.

You seem to write mostly if not exclusively in prose poetry. Were you inspired to write prose poems by someone you admire or did it seem the natural vehicle for your imagination? How did you start down that road?

David Friedman: For many years I wrote linguistically interesting but rather private verse. I was in a rut, and all my poems sounded the same. A friend challenged me to write a personification. It worked. I wrote a prose poem, and I have stayed with that form ever since. It has been liberating. It gives me flexibility to use alliteration and cadence and other music-making devices while achieving more accessible meaning. I also realized that some of the best poetry I ever read was prose poetry: occasionally in Shakespeare; in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Michael T. Young: Your poems seem to move along, often propelled by wordplay and satire. Do you find that in composing you are led by the wordplay, or do you find yourself starting at first with an idea or thought about something?

David Friedman: I rarely begin with an idea or thought. Wordplay and language are most important. When I read a poem, I read the writing first, later the meaning. Thus I focus on the quality of the writing. Anyone can dish out meaning (or meaninglessness) or tell a story in verse. I like to think my poems give pleasures only poetry can give: the joys of language, music, emotional impact.

Michael T. Young: You use the character of the green bear a lot in your poetry. What do you see the green bear as representing or symbolizing?

David Friedman: The green bear (all lower-case) is a character I invented and brought to life to take on the burden of some of my poems. He is not a symbol. I suppose it is significant to say that the bear’s color suggests his specialness as well as an apartness or alienation. Finally, bears are sort of lovable, and there are not a lot of talking green ones out there.

Michael T. Young: The poem, “Time Poem” says, “If I conclude that I am awake, how can I get where I am going without fresh obsessions and delusions?” I had a sense that the movement of time is a personal thing, not merely a measure of change by a watch or atomic clock. Is there something to this and how do you see time and our personal relationship to it?

David Friedman: I think this poem is as much about the fear of multiplicity and about the yearning for perfection as about anything else. It is also, as you say, about the movement of time as a personal thing.

The Welcome. David Joel Friedman.

Winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series, chosen by Stephen Dunn

Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, March 6, 2006. 96 pages, ISBN: 978-0252072925

(click the image to be taken to where you can order The Welcome)