A collection of prose poems
Plume Editions from MadHat Press
These are poems of sheer imagination and beauty. Once I started reading them, I couldn’t stop. Like Russell Edson before him, Jeff Friedman is a fantastic fabulist who draws his readers into a parallel universe where the lines between fantasy and logic disappear, and wonder begins. At once entertaining and wise, witty and insightful, Friedman is one of the finest prose poets writing today.
In Floating Tales Jeff Friedman presides over a strange marriage between the mundane and the surreal—the oneiric logic of an Edson prose poem happily banging its head against the domesticity of the Baudelairean Bly prose poem. That is, to say, these prose poems are highly original. Edson once said that a prose poem, no matter how surrealistic or nutty, should “think well.” What better description for the gems in this collection. I’m not sure what took Friedman so long to find his way to the prose poem, but those of us who write them are glad he finally made the journey.
Late genius of the form Russell Edson stated that prose poetry can create “a beautiful new animal.” Jeff Friedman’s Floating Tales earn that honorific description. These compact, surreal, enlivening tales strip experience down to its most fertile mysteries. In the worlds created here, paradox, the unseen, the uncontrollable, nothingness, unsatisfiable hungers, the absurd, suspended threat, constant transformation and mutation, and power reversals reign supreme. A tongue bullies its owner. A woman teaches a parrot to fly. Puppets revolt. Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt and is strapped to the roof of her fleeing family’s Subaru. The ancient, the contemporary and the cartoonish cross pollinate in amazing ways. With restless inventiveness, these tales provide the opposite of closure: they burst open, bloom outward, revealing multiple new ways of relating to so-called reality.
After Alexsandra kissed me, a white feather flew out of my mouth. I pretended that nothing out of the ordinary had happened, though the feather floated between us for a long while before it fell on the carpet. The feather was long and bowed with soft fringe. I wanted to pick it up and twirl it, but Alexsandra seemed concerned. “Did you eat a white bird?” she asked. I shook my head. “It’s only one feather,” I answered. She eyed me suspiciously, though a moment before she had seemed perfectly happy to be kissing me. To prove that there was no problem, I kissed her, and everything was fine. Our lips met, our tongues touched and tangled as they had a thousand times before. Then another feather floated from my mouth and stuck in her thick black hair. She pulled it out and scrutinized the feather for a long time. “There’s something inside you trying to get out, she said. “You have to do something about it.” “What can I do?” I said. “It’s only two feathers.” She picked up her journal and began writing. Now I was alarmed. Had I done something to deserve this? Had a bird flown into my mouth in a dream? I thought about my dreams, but couldn’t remember anything particular. “Let’s try one more kiss,” I said, but this time, a white dove flung itself from my mouth, flying wildly around the room until it hit the window and fell on the floor. “Is it dead?” I asked. She kneeled down and cradled the dove in her arms. Then she carried it outside—I thought to bury it, but instead she threw it in air. The dove caught itself before plummeting into the pavement and landed on a branch above us. “We’ll figure this out,” she said, squeezing my hand, but I could already feel a tickling in my throat as the dove began singing.