My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again
University of Pittsburgh Press, $14
As its title suggests, Fried’s second collection (after 2000’s She Didn’t Mean to Do It) confronts the world with humor and more than a little chagrin. Hers is an urban, street-level vision, an indie-film aesthetic (think Hal Hartley or Nicole Holofcener), comfortably contemporary with none of the post-Beat hipster affectation one might associate with that description. Like Frank O’Hara and Harvey Pekar, Fried records the feints and fillips embedded in mundane activities—eating lunch, sulking, watching the news, complaining about spouses or lovers, working at ossifying jobs—that occur while we wait for more exciting things to happen. Her vivid characters could be émigrés from novels or short stories; they become present to us through physical gestures (“The daughter belly down, stomach / muscles tight, head hanging / off the bed-edge, arms straight out / before her.”) as much as through speech. But Fried makes room for the extraordinary, too, such as the casual surrealism of a butcher’s shop window, in which homemade Renoir copies hang among deer carcasses, or the memory of fifth graders catching oak leaves as they fall, “laying them to ground gentle, same as / they would have been without us.” A poetry that looks outward, as Fried’s does, can’t ignore politics, and here the current political climate of distrust and division is just that, ever present as weather, a condition to which we have become inured but that surfaces in offhand associations (a show pig with “Dick Cheney skin,” a half-heard “rat-terrier commentator” on the radio). When, as in the sober ending of “American Brass,” a reference to the bombing of Afghanistan becomes explicit, the effect almost seems melodramatic, an oddly self-conscious note in an otherwise confident collection by a poet who crystallizes our American moment with candor and precision.