Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, February 26, 2007


The opening poem, “Cordless,” in Daisy Fried’s My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again, her second collection of poetry, contains the telephone monologue of a flighty female—who cannot drink because she is taking antibiotics (“what do people do in the evening when they can’t drink”)—left on a friend’s answering machine. The one-sided conversation begins with the young woman’s rationale for calling: “I was feeling interesting. I was feeling fragile / so I thought I’d call / and leave you a message.” Throughout much of the book, Fried’s various speakers seem to believe this reasoning as well, many offering readers detailed narratives that might be “interesting” and revealing a variety of aspects about themselves, while often also displaying a “fragile” or uncertain side of their personalities.

In fact, when entertainment and anxiety combine in these poems, Fried delivers to readers some of her finer work. As the caller in “Cordless” confides at the end of her amusing, appealing, and affecting poem: “I have to go lie down now. I’m not feeling / very brave. I am feeling like / there is nothing left / in the world except me in this house alone.” Much of the entertainment in Fried’s poetry arises from the active and imaginative language presented by her narrators or other individuals in the poems. Although the book’s pieces frequently reveal their details through the use of monologue, the poet’s speakers manage to keep a consistent tone yet avoid falling into the trap of merely maintaining a static or stale voice.

Sometimes personae within the pages of this collection, almost like motorcyclists on Harleys weaving in and out of turnpike traffic to move ahead more quickly, exhibit an uncanny ability to slip from one topic to another, shifting from personal opinion to social commentary or from objective observation to emotional response even in the span of a single sentence, as in this excerpt caught in mid-sentence from “Some Loud Men, Some Women”: “insurance policies everywhere jump / a couple hundred bucks and a motorcycle zips / or unzips our sense of elsewhere / crawling across the screen of our brains, / and the neighborhood children clutch / their Jennifer-the-Friendly-Faun dolls . . ..” The same sentence later suggests “children may be distractible, we may be distractible,” and before Fried ends this the speaker considers “a whale caught in the Delaware River” where rescuers try to guide him into “water deeper, less polluted with leads, chlordanes, PCBs / and he can turn somersaults and find a whale lover / as the sun breaks like an egg over Liberty Tower . . ..”

The figures in Daisy Fried’s poetry occasionally remind me of intriguing personalities found elsewhere. At times, Fried’s lines read like dialogue spoken by city sophisticates or ethnic relatives in a Woody Allen film: “‘Your father giving his atheist mother / a religious funeral with that schmuck rabbi—why?’” (“Aunt Leah, Aunt Sophie and the Negro Painter”). Sometimes her personae appear to resemble teenage screen characters from a John Hughes movie: “In her observatory, her little red room, / the daughter sings ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ / into her hairbrush” (“Go To Your Room”). In different instances the pieces seem similar to uneasy scenes one might find in an outtake from American Beauty: “You and city and life / and home and history and shopping / like a bunch of cars / getting backed up on a turnpike / one of those massive fog pileups / cars spanking off one another’s bumpers” (“Some Loud Men, Some Women”). When the women in these poems discuss their lives, they may even seem more believable than the characters in Sex and the City: “‘I still miss him.’ / I nod. I poke Kinesha’s belly, her nose. / ‘U-G-H,’ says Kinesha, annoyed. I’m bad with kids. / ‘I’m teaching her to assert herself,’ Shoshana says. / Her wrist chains jangle. I twist my wedding ring. / An organ somewhere plays ‘Ode to Joy’” (“Shooting Kinesha”).

As one might notice in Fried’s attention to specifics (such as the chains on the woman’s wrist, the twisted wedding ring, and the song in the distance), the poet’s close focus on significant features can be very effective. Indeed, in those poems that offer more intimate pictures of the personae and explore emotions through examination of an individual’s particular personal experiences, Fried excels. The people in these poems come to life before our eyes through their sharp dialogue or their distinctive behavior. As readers, we become fascinated by their characteristics and their perceptions.

Perhaps Fried’s background as a past working journalist for Philadelphia newspapers contributes to her skill at filtering out extraneous remarks from interviews with subjects while preserving a sense of each speaker’s personality. In the beginning of “Sugar,” Fried introduces a new persona: “I’m trying to quit, licking chocolate / off my fingers. I’m the new counterperson / at Miss Julie’s Sweet Shoppe. I nibble / scones, snack on truffles. Sugar sweat, / sugar grit jumps me almost out of my skin. / It itches.” Nevertheless, the profiles in Fried’s poetry are framed by lyrical language one would rarely see in a newspaper story: “The lady, in her plushy coat, speckled / like dog fur, collar up (it’s chilly in here), / with wilted lips, watches, swivels back, / then front, then back to the bar. She sings along, / her different song, je mens” (“The Drunkard’s Bar”).

In the many instances like this, where Fried’s fine ear for picking up the peculiarities of a voice blends with vivid description lyrically written, My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again provides an attractive and engaging set of works seemingly sketched with keen attention, especially to the particulars within each poem’s setting. However, one weaker poem, “New Boyfriend, 14,” seems too inconsequential. It begins as if the start to one of Fried’s more finished portraits, but this piece just stops too short of completion, and it feels as if it needs some of the highly effective elements desired by readers, who find such technique evidenced in other poems, or a more developed empathy, as witnessed elsewhere in the collection. Another less successful work is the political poem that paints with a broad brush. Whereas Fried’s poetry frequently appears more persuasive because of its wit and subtle social commentary conveyed within perceptive reports of her personae, on a couple of occasions statements in the poetry resemble the editorial page of her former newspapers. Consequently, “Hawk”—an all too obvious metaphor that reads like a political cartoon caricature—even as satire appears less complex and somewhat awkward when contrasted with the more absorbing pieces, including others with similar political messages, one has noticed throughout the rest of the volume.

For instance, in “American Brass” Fried effectively relates ambivalence in her associations as an American overseas during the initial bombings of Afghanistan just months after the events of September 11. As an American high school marching band plays from a bandstand in the Luxembourg Gardens, the speaker and her husband reveal conflicting emotions over the spread of American influence and the violence occurring halfway around the world: “holding hands, / listening to American / brass filling up all of every thing, the trees, / the park, these interrupted spaces, paths, / kids, dust, the French, our hearts, with its / sound like money, like bombs falling in air // bombs falling now on Afghanistan.”

The collection’s title poem also appears to be another more effective piece with subtle facets of political content within an interesting and witty context. The speaker’s brother, whose political leanings are so far left as to approach anarchism (“He doesn’t have politics.”), is continually arrested at civil disobedience protests. His behavior concerns family members whose own political points of view range from the speaker’s left wing attitude to the father’s belief that “‘being pro-Palestinian / is anti-Semitic.’” None of the family are able to “talk politics” with the brother. Nevertheless, rather than didactic like “Hawk,” this poem is a richer mix, with its insertion of some ambiguity because readers, like the speaker, may not know what to make of the brother, who could be creating social statements in a more constructive manner, as the poet indicates: “He is not weeding community gardens. / He is not climbing on roofs to bang / with hammer on shingles.” By the final lines of the poem, one wonders whether the brother should be admired (as he loudly claims, “this is what democracy looks like”) or if his activities are silly and counterproductive acts of intellectual narcissism. Perhaps both are possible conclusions, an understanding which adds to the complexity in one’s reading of this entertaining poem and elevates it to a point where it may achieve more thoughtful response from readers than a political poem that might be as one-sided as the conversation in “Cordless” would receive.

With this second collection of poems, Daisy Fried demonstrates great energy and a still developing sense of style. Her multitude of monologues and singular portraits of believable people entwined in the middle of ordinary events or emotional conflicts encountered during everyday living, but rendered in evocative and ever-engaging ways, already signal this poet’s promising potential and continuing future of fine poetry. Indeed, thinking of what lies ahead for Fried, I’m reminded of lines from “Used One Speed, Princeton,” an understated yet seemingly revealing self-portrait of the poet: “I sometimes feel rather shaky / but that’s OK. I guard against regret, / disapproval, those middle-aged emotions. / I am still young. I feel I am.” By the close of the poem, the speaker steadies herself, squints her eyes “against gnats,” and she steers ahead: “a certain feeling comes over me, / something that feels like foolish bravery, / I glide, concede, I sit straight up.” One hopes such steely resolve and determined direction will guide Fried as she writes the new works readers already anticipate based upon the accomplished and remarkably delightful poetry she has produced thus far.

Fried, Daisy. My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.

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