Daisy Fried ’89 returns to read poems

daisy-fried-jpgDaisy Fried wants you to enjoy the pain that comes with her poetry. The Swarthmore alum worked for many years at the Warren Wilson College (WWC), and has also taught at Smith College, Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, Villanova University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. She has published three books of poetry: She Didn’t Mean to Do It, My Brother is Getting Arrested Again, and Women’s Poetry: Poetry and Advice. She has won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from University of Pittsburgh Press, the Cohen Award from Ploughshares, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, the Hodder Fellowship from Princeton and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Those of us who have encountered a decent variety of creative writing know that not all styles and voices speak to us the way we’d expect. Poet and Swarthmore graduate Daisy Fried insists that any sense of dislike we encounter as we read or listen to poetry is something we should pay a great amount of attention to.

Fried teaches creative writing at the WWC MFA Program for Writers and is this year’s judge for the John Russel Hayes Poetry Prizes and the Lois Morrell Poetry Award. Fried graduated from Swarthmore in 1989 and went on to publish work in The London Review of Books, The Nation, The New Republic, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, Threepenny, Review, and Triquarterly.

For Fried, the poems that we dislike and find evoke negative emotions within us are the ones we should pay an equal amount of attention to. “If something gets me angry, if a poem gets under my skin, if I feel offended by something I ought to pay attention,” says Fried.  Reading poems one dislikes with a sense of openness provides readers the opportunity to realize what triggers them. As she told the New York Times in an interview last year, Fried finds “Sourness a kind of joy I try for intricately.” The taste of this ‘sourness’ flavors her poetry, in balance with rich beauty and the bleak modernity of iPhones, GPS and supermarkets sprinkled throughout.

In a talk she recently gave, Fried had audience members consider, “If you let content get in the way of understanding and learning from a poem you dislike, are you also letting content get in the way of understanding and learning from a poem you do like?  Do you like what you like for the wrong reasons?”  Content, Fried proposes, is not all a reader can gain from a piece. A poem that directly challenges our personal outlook or subtly irritates us can open our eyes just as much as a poem that sits well with us. “Reading it with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine.”

Daisy Fried’s poetry poignantly celebrates the nature, and the burden, of a woman’s body. In her collection, “She Didn’t Mean to Do It,” Fried depicts young girls as daughters and as individuals. She shows us mothers, and pregnant women, and old women. Her work also portrays sexualized femininity through pin up girls and porn stars. These images of the female body enrich her poetry with not just verbal eroticism, but with taste, touch and smell.

Fried’s poetry surrounding the female form is self conscious, and frequently under the scrutiny of the male gaze, as narrators move from the bathroom floor into the womb and onto the calendar on the walls. Perhaps this speaks to her idea that poetry is triumphant when it makes us uncomfortable and insecure. It is victory for her art when Fried’s work leaves us feeling vulnerable and vaguely threatened by the characters on the periphery of her work.

Despite this hovering nature of this presence on the edge of her work, Fried is never intimidated by violence and trauma. In her book, “My Brother is Getting Arrested Again,” the poet looks straight into the eye of senseless crime. Her work directly addresses tragedy, and hits the reader with painful directness. In both of these collections, her work forces the mind and psyche into grave emotional discomfort. But the grace of her words lifts up back up and into the sunlight.

In a reading she gave at St. Francis College, Fried was asked if what she writes in her poems is true. Her response was that she writes from her experience and writes from what she would say is the persona of herself. “But a lot of it is fictionalized, and a lot of it is more the emotional truth than the factual truth,” she explains. Like many other poets, Fried attempts to convey a sense of balance and imbalance in her work rather than explicitly telling what has happened to her. Story is the means by which she accomplishes this.

Fried will give a reading and announce the winners of this year’s poetry competitions on Thursday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Scheuer Room. For further information contact Professor Nathalie Anderson at nanders1@swarthmore.edu.


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