A poet on her Jewish family, 'misspent youth'

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 6, 2006

Weaving humor through the serious themes of politics and coming of age, poet Daisy Fried charmed an audience that smiled, laughed and applauded as if on queue.

Yesterday evening, Fried, who taught writing at Penn three years ago, read selections of her poetry at the Kelly Writers House.

Fried's first book, She Didn't Mean to Do It, won the Agnes Lynch Starret Prize, and the recent My Brother is Getting Arrested Again was a finalist for the 2005 James Laughlin Award. She was recently awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, which she called "the biggest affirmation of my writing."

To the delight of the audience, she began her presentation in character with a poem that depicts an angry woman leaving a message on her boyfriend's answering machine. She alternated between the protagonist's angry and frustrated voice and the high, piercing voice of a telemarketer.

Two of the works she presented explored politics and Judaism, which are topics close to Fried.

"I am half-Jewish. My father is a conservative Jew, and my mother converted," she said.

The title work of My Brother is Getting Arrested Again discusses the reaction of the poetic speaker's Jewish family toward her brother's arrest at a pro-Palestinian rally, using the phrase "they don't talk about politics" as a refrain.

She also read from a narrative titled "Aunt Leah, Aunt Sophie, and the Negro Painter."

The narrative was again centered around a politically divided Jewish household, but paradoxes such as an atheist father giving a religious funeral appear throughout this work.

Before reading her poem "The Jubilate South Philly: City Fourteen," she shared a short selection from the 18th-century poet Christopher Smart. She described Smart's poem as "praising God through his cat."

Her poem describes a 14-year-old girl's insecurities. Fried's poem uses the dialect of a moody teenager to explore the topics of tattoos, relationships, piercings and passing fads. The character believes herself to be "not too old to argue with a nine-year-old and not too young to be sexy."

Toward the end of the poem, Fried reveals that the immature protagonist is pregnant.

In her poem "Thrash," she explored "misspent youth" drawing on her own college experiences.

"That frat boy [in the poem] was based on a Penn frat boy." Fried said after reading the poem. "I'm a Swarthmore girl."

College senior Bing Li, who read Fried's first book, said he enjoyed the presentation.

"I enjoyed the different voices she used," he said. "I liked how she read some of her works in progress."