Alice Friman – Encyclopedia of New Georgia

Alice Friman is an award-winning poet whose connection to Georgia began in 2001 when she was invited to read his work for the Georgia Poetry Circuit. A resident of Milledgeville since 2003, her work is distinguished by a biting wit and concern for the natural world.

Early life and works

Alice Ruth Friman was born in New York City on October 20, 1933, the youngest daughter of small business owners Joseph Pesner and Helen Friedman Pesner. Raised in Washington Heights and educated in New York public schools, she earned a BA in elementary education from Brooklyn College in 1954 and taught at schools in Harlem and the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. She married Elmer Friman in 1955 and the couple moved, first to Dayton, Ohio, in 1956, then to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1960. There Friman earned a master’s degree in English from Butler University in 1971 and began teaching at Indiana Central College. (later Indianapolis University). The couple, who had three children, divorced in 1975.

Alice Freeman
Photograph by Lillian Elaine Wilson

Hired as an adjunct and later promoted to full professor, Friman taught English and creative writing and helped found the Indiana Writers Center. In 1978, she published A matter of innocence, a collection of poems. Three more collections followed, and in 1984, Reportage from Corinth, his first complete collection, appears. Friman remarried in 1989, and in 2003 she and her second husband, Marshall Bruce Gentry, a Flannery O’Connor Scholar, moved to Milledgeville, where he had been invited to teach at Georgia College and the University of State. Friman began teaching at the college shortly thereafter and later served as poetry editor for the Arts & Letters newspaper.

Although his poems often center on death and loss, Friman’s verses have been variously described as fierce and humorous. Like she said Contemporary authors, “My images… are mostly from childhood and seem to be about desire.” His next two collections, reverse fire (1997) and zoo (1999), explore similar ground, focusing on sadness and undone things. In reverse fire, for example, the speaker longs for “a simpler light, perhaps that never was”. Empty spaces, “broken decency” and dissected love are reproduced in the speaker’s perception of the world around him. The poems in zoo contemplate the vagaries of memory, unfinished lives and failures. As always, Friman is a keen observer of nature and, like Wordsworth or Thoreau, instructed by it. There is also the ever-present barrier between man and the natural world; the speaker reminds us that there is “a pawn for a promise”, but this promise is often ill-defined and unresolved.

Later works

The rotten girl book (2006) describes Friman’s experiences as her parents’ caretaker in their final days, exploring topics of guilt, grief and loss. These austere but intimate poems move from anger to acceptance, as Friman explores his father’s passing and his rejection:

hold hands

who for sixty-two years refused mine

singing the song he never sang for me

The title of his next volume, vinculum (2011), comes from the Latin “to bind” or “to connect”. At seventy, she is “still struggling in the shadows” of her mother’s death and trying to connect the past with the present. In a telling line from “Birches,” the speaker asks, “What’s heaven without nostalgia?” This question is at the heart of many of Friman’s poems. It is often in contradiction with the real and the imaginary.

Saturn’s view (2014) attempts to look at the earth from two angles: objective distance and subjective reflection. The impetus for the volume comes from the fact that Friman observed the planet Saturn through a powerful telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii. Envisioning the bigger picture and asking ourselves why we are here, Friman returns to the central purpose of his poetry: “Why else / do we write, but to deliver / the void and fill it.” The speaker of these poems finds beauty all around her, and her joy is realized when she can dance, remember or write.

The View of Saturn: Poems (2014)

The View of Saturn: Poems

bloody weather (2019), her seventh comprehensive collection, deepens the relationships she has explored in previous volumes: her struggle with loss and her concern for the natural world. Like so many of his poems, the plays of bloody weather turn common events into revelations. Throughout the collection, blood signifies trauma as much as vitality, and in Friman’s hands, acts of bloodletting become acts of understanding. True to the vision of one of her favorite authors, Thoreau, she was a fearless and truthful witness to the possible.

Alice Friman’s poetry, which she often calls “my sweet hell”, has won numerous awards, including two Pushcart awards, the Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry in 2012 for vinculum, three awards from the Poetry Society of America and the Ezra Pound Poetry Award. His poems have been published in fourteen countries and in numerous anthologies. She has received fellowships from the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences as well as the Yaddo and MacDowell Literary Colonies, among others. In 2002, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Indianapolis, where she taught from 1971 to 1993.

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