Daisy Fried

Michigan Writers on the Air: Commentaries on Poetry

Daisy Fried
Air Date: August 20, 2010

Aaron, I want to introduce you to a young—well, younger than us!—poet named Daisy Fried. She was born in 1967 and currently lives in Philly with her husband and daughter. I met her when she covered the first ever national conference of state poets laureate when I was Delaware’s poet laureate. Her article was either in the Philadelphia Inquirer or the New York Times, I can’t remember. I just remember that she was attempting to locate her prose somewhere between ironic bemusement, I’ll call it, at the sometimes virtually self-appointed bards and respect for the few serious poets in the mix. That’s the reality, because of the variety of ways states select these poets.

But Daisy’s always had her feet planted on the sometimes sticky urban sidewalk, pretty clear about what poetry can do, I think. She calls poetry “the High Art which is also democratic: inexpensive, portable, reproducible, quickly consumed (except for epic and very difficult poetry), requiring only literacy to participate. I’m quoting here from a piece she wrote for The Poetry Foundation. She notes that interestingly, we have higher expectation of capital P poetry than we do for the individual poem. We ask a poem to BE more than itself, she says. I’ll say more about that in a minute when I read the first of her two poems I have for today.

Daisy’s written two—can I say “kick-ass” ?—books of poems so far, She Didn’t Mean to Do It, in 2000, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and My Brother is Getting Arrested Again, in 2006, a finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. She won a Guggenheim in 2006 and has a string of other huge awards.

The first poem of hers I’d like to read is pretty short. It’s called “Women’s Poetry.” It was first published in The Nation. I asked her to say a few words about the poem. Here’s what she said:

” ‘Women’s Poetry’ riffs off the Marianne Moore poem, “Poetry” which—like my poem—starts off “I, too, dislike it…” And I guess in some ways my poem is having fun with our expectations of what poems by women are about, but as it happens, the poem didn’t start with Marianne Moore, it started with the car, the description of which I chopped off another (failed) poem.

“Kids in my neighborhood in South Philly like to pimp out their cheapo American or Japanese cars, and make them look badass. I think the cars are beautifully hilarious. Boring little modest cars with spoilers—you know, those bars on the backs of race cars that keep the rear wheels from floating off the ground while racing, and lights installed underneath, etc. I liked the description I had of the car, but it wasn’t a poem till I happened on the idea of calling it “Women’s Poetry” (titles can make a big difference to poems) and then, after that, of quoting the Marianne Moore line. I like to think that people who read my poem who also know the Moore poem, will remember what else she says in the poem.

Here’s the first of that poem:

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine. ……

Then Daisy goes on—”So it’s understood that even if I’m skeptical that there is such a thing called “Women’s Poetry” I see also an understanding of that phrase as having in it something genuine, and that dislike is not the only emotion—my poem is after all written by a woman, about desire.

“But,” she says, “I don’t want to overstate all that. The poem is very much about cool cars.”

Okay, here’s Daisy Fried’s poem:

WOMEN’S POETRY

I, too, dislike it.
However,

I was trying to not think
when out of the gaping wound
of the car-detailing garage (smells like metallic sex)
came a Nissan GT-R fitted with an oversized spoiler.
Backing out sounded like clearing the throat of god.
A gold snake zizzed around the license plate.
Sunburst hubcaps, fancy undercarriage installation
casting a pool of violet light on the pocked pavement
of gum blots. Was it this that filled me with desire?

Doesn’t this poem make your head spin, the way it reels away from the quote and turns immediately to the car emerging from that sexy “gaping wound” of the garage, and is made of sheer passion?

The second poem I want to read for you is “Midnight Feeding,” a more straightforward narrative. It was first published in The New Republic.

Here’s what Daisy says about it:

” The events come from a story a friend told me about feeding stray cats in her suburban yard. The emotions in it come out of my experiences as a new first-time mother. I named the poem-cats in homage to Milton’s archangels, but I don’t think knowing that is necessary to enjoying the poem. The last lines are a way of poking fun at both myself and certain overly-tried and not-very-true strategies of narrative poetry. When I read this poem out loud to an audience I preface it by saying “I always tell writing students that there are three things you should avoid writing poems about, babies, kittens and drunks (unless you’re Charles Bukowski).”

Okay, here’s the poem:

MIDNIGHT FEEDING

The open shed on the lawn’s far side stinks of gas
from the hateful mower that pulls me where it wants
when I mow, which is seldom. I rip up grass.
Humid night’s moon’s nothing-halo; the lawn pretends
to candy floss. Black-white dud roses dead since June,
alive enough to scratch my bare legs. I’m wearing nothing
but underpants, flipflops. Arms full, I stumble out,
flashlight in my mouth, turn my head to choose
what’s lit. Inside the dirt-floor shed, I fill bowls:
Dry bits, tuna slop. The flashlight hurts my mouth
till I drop it, dwindles into its cone where it falls to blight
a denticular leaf.
“Raphael! Gabriel! Lucifer!” Feral
kittens come running, vicious, filthy. Hum of the road.
Uriel shines his reflector-eyes from among mower parts
in the shed’s darkest corner. Disgust shakes his paw.
He won’t get close since wild La Mamma ran off weeks ago.
My three-month daughter cries on the baby monitor
I wear like a Miss America sash. She’ll wait,
Uriel must eat. Can’t leave them. Coons or coyotes
would get the food and kittens too. My fur rises
on my arms. What a bad mom! Also, I refuse
to look at the stars. There are too many
stars in poems you have to get drunk to write.

So there it is, her philosophy exactly. Don’t get drunk on ideas of what poetry with a capital P should be. Take the poem for what it is. Keep it on the ground where the kittens and the screaming baby are. Have a good time with the whole mess that life is.