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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Number 145: Alice Friman "Getting Serious"

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.

--Alice Friman

Hap Notes: Award winning poet Alice Friman (born 1933) is another in the trend of poets who started writing poetry later in life. There is nothing odd about this. While poetry has been often been relegated to old guys with beards or young romantic fellas or suicidal collegiate women – these are all wrong images akin to thinking of Napoleon as being incredibly short (he was 5'6" 1/2" - not as short as, say Prince, but probably around the height of Julius Caesar. He was an average height for his day.) I suppose there's a sliver of truth to it but it's certainly not accurate.

In fact, It would be more accurate to say that most of the really good poetry being written in America is being written by women (and some men) over 40. No kidding. I'm relieved by this. Poetry isn't just a vessel for feelings, it's a conduit to the universe. It takes a skilled electrician to hook up the circuits.

When Friman says she's searching for her soul, she's looking at all the parts of her life, seeing who she was – what made up her life, her existence. We are often so busy going through our lives working, cooking, driving, trying to get "somewhere" that we don't always remember what made our souls fly, rise up, so that we could feel them in our bodies. As we look back on our lives we remember the people we were – ambitious, clumsy, undeveloped, sexy- or looking for a connection with sex – on vacations, in relationships, in the middle of a career. There is always a place or two that we remember as wonderful, inspiring, when our souls sort of "came to life," stirred by some enchanted wind.

Friman remembers the thrill of watching the dancers at Radio City Music Hall (she grew up in New York, although she spent a lot of her time in Indiana- teaching at Purdue, Indiana State and Ball State) and that's the first time she remembers her soul taking "flight."

Now Friman knows a good bit about mythology. She once said " I write for the muse. Does that sound old fashioned? As I tell my classes, there are no muses for basketball, but, by heaven, there are four, count them, four muses for poetry—Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, and Erato. Five if you count Thalia, who doubled in comedy and pastoral poetry. And whichever one is called up when I first touch pen to paper, I tell you, she is one tough cookie." So when she says she is tied to the mast she's saying a lot. Not only did Ulysses/Odysseus tie himself to the mast so that he could hear the sirens, he put wax in the ears of the crew so they would not be harmed by the siren's call. So what is she saying here? I'll let you dig it out. Just remember that the sirens could be a bit more formidable than just seductive women and are often depicted as birds with women's heads with sharp vulture claws. They are a warning of mythic, dangerous powers. She mentions Greece earlier in the poem, too.

As far as the Dutch Cleanser goes, well, I have three theories. One is the reflective foil package which can act as a mirror. Two is the ads seen for Dutch cleanser as "jumping" to work and having many little maids. Three is the way that one sprinkles out the cleanser sort of looks like a cascade of powder in a wave. The Coney Island funhouse mirror, you get, yes?

Tell me you know what paper dolls are, please. Do they still even make them?

Here's a good Friman quote: " I have never been in a class. When I started, there was no such thing. If there was such a thing, I didn’t know it. I had three kids and the kitchen floor, and I started writing. I’ve taught myself every mistake I know, and so I think perhaps I came at it a bit differently, because I don’t seem to bother with what’s the style now, since I never knew what the style was. I guess I wanted to write like the poets I had always loved, or to have that effect. I wanted to write things that mattered."

Here's Friman's website, where you can find more of her poems:

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