The poetry of Karie Friedman

A gift of grit

By Dagney C. Ernest | Dec 13, 2017
Photo by: Dagney C. Ernest The “Add Water, Add Fire” team includes, from left, Judy Kaber, Tom Moore and Leslie Moore. All were poetry compatriots of the late Karie Friedman.

Belfast — The Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Montville’s Karie Friedman was in her element, sharing a couple of hours with her fellow poets at a Summer’s End reading at The Playhouse in Belfast. Two days later, having gone to the hospital about a slow-to-heal gardening injury, she was given a terminal diagnosis. A week later, she was gone.

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, at 6:30 p.m., a group of her friends and poetry peers will celebrate her and her work with a book launch in the Abbott Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St. The book in question is “Add Water, Add Fire,” a collection of Friedman’s poems she had been submitting for proposals.

“We were lucky, because she already had the manuscript pretty much set,” said Judy Kaber, friend and a member of The Poets’ Table, which Friedman founded. “And we were able to tell her that we were going to, before she went — because she went so fast.”

The “we” comprises Kaber, Belfast Poet Laureate Tom Moore and his wife, Leslie Moore, Neshama Rhoda Waller, Sharon Bray and Sandy Weisman.

“We all just felt it was important to do … the quality of the poems is really good! She’s not just another poet, they’re really good,” said Tom Moore the first week of December.

The group began working on the book even before Friedman’s memorial service, which packed Montville’s Union Harvest Grange with family, friends, neighbors and poetry colleagues.

“We were already taking names of people who wanted a copy, “said Kaber. “I talked to her the Thursday or Friday before … she didn’t object to it, but she was a little skeptical.”

According to the biography Friedman posted on her poetry website, she was hesitant for many years to identify herself as a poet, although Kaber said she thought there “was always a burning desire there.” Friedman’s journey included decades of editing, first in academia while raising a family and then, after her marriage ended, with the journal Reviews of Modern Physics.

 

Self-Portrait

by Karie Friedman

I have studied seven languages

for worlds they reveal,

yet speak little and write

in only one. Wherever I live,

gardens appear, books accumulate.

I stack a good woodpile,

have a weakness for

the plush of moss,

paw pads of certain cats,

cook from the heart with hot

peppers, curry, cinnamon, aware

that dishes, like words, can fall short.

My daughters have taught me

kindness and the lyrics

to their favorite songs.

From men I have loved

I learned intimacy

and several flavors of loneliness.

From my ancestors came

a taste for fire-grilled meat,

with soot and blood,

for saturated colors, berry red,

carnelian, verdigris, the translucent

rims of burning candles,

illuminating one page at a time

the volume of my days.

Friedman also moonlighted as a trucking firm dispatcher. Originally from California, she lived in several places in the country, as well as in Canada, England and France. She hiked in New Zealand and studied several languages. In recent years, she traveled to Brazil to work with English language students there. But always, she came back to Montville, where she and her former husband had bought a farm in the back-to-the-land days. In 2005, she drove across the country to live there year-round.

“Add Water, Add Fire” touches on many of these experiences, as well as a love for cooking and for jazz. When Friedman came to Maine permanently, she also entered a low-residency MFA program at New England College in New Hampshire, earning a degree in poetry ... and devoting herself to a productive writing practice that continues to bear fruit.

“She was still getting poems accepted,” said Kaber. “Fermentista" will be in Issue 99 of the prestigious River Styx publication.

“And she got honorable mention in the Maine Postmark Contest,” said Leslie Moore.

Friedman had not known about the latter, part of the annual Belfast Poetry Festival. Kaber read her friend’s poem at the October fest. She said it wasn’t easy.

“Even now when I read her poems, I hear her voice,” Kaber said.

In her late embrace of being a poet, Friedman influenced and inspired others. The Poets’ Table, which will continue, is a small group of vetted poets committed to revising and eventually publishing their work. They meet twice a month in the archives of the Belfast Historical Society’s museum.

“It’s definitely a critique group,” said Kaber. “She was really a great inspiration. She had very high standards for her poetry and for everybody else’s poetry.”

Kaber said Friedman pushed her fellow poets to “aim high”: to send out their work not just to local and regional publications, but also farther afield.

“She wasn’t really a leader, more of a role model. She was very gracious. We’d sometimes meet out at her house. She was a big gardener and had lots of wonderful flowers. And she was a really good cook and really loved to entertain, so we would go out there at holiday times and have a special meal.”

The Moores also spent time working on poetry with Friedman, at her house and at theirs in Belfast. The connection initially was made via the Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance’s Give & Take, sort of an editing matchmaker service connecting members.

“I had one experience with that and it wasn’t great, so I said I’d like to meet with someone else. Initially, it’s just online. So Karie and I exchanged a few emails and soon thereafter we met and then Leslie, also,” Tom said.

The three ended up meeting every few weeks for about a year and half. Friedman, with her years of editorial experience, had a system for her critiques, utilizing a column down the side.

“It started with praise for the poem, what she really liked about it, and she highlighted things she really liked. Then she went straight down the poem with comments, very meticulous and constructive and helpful,” said Leslie.

That sense of organization is reflected in Friedman’s home, filled with jars of garden produce she put up. Kaber said when they were preparing for the memorial service, she and Friedman’s daughter Anna found tablecloths hanging in the pantry, each with a pinned-on note about shape and dimension.

But keeping up an old farmstead means making peace with entropy and dealing with the unexpected, something Friedman’s narrative Maine poems explore with a rueful grace. One of Kaber’s favorites is “Flashlight in the Well,” in which the poet tells of having to descend and dive at summer’s end for the title’s tool:

 

Someone must go down

when the well is low. My spring-

fed source now harbors poison

in its heart …

 

Another of Kaber’s favorites is “Woman on Brick Walk,” a cautionary tale that has Friedman scolding herself after a careless winter fall that serves as “a sign her/body’s past its use-by date” and a reprimand of:

 

trying to merge back into the woman

who laid these bricks, with sun-

burned midriff and a rose in her hair.

 

The brick walk figures in another wintry tale, “Milky Way,” when Friedman reluctantly put down her sledgehammer when confronted by ice:

 

No, for my 50 feet of walk, a sprinkle of sand

will have to serve, a Milky Way in reverse,

reminding me as strongly as any starry night

that even grit under my boots is a gift

I will be loath to leave.

 

“You know, Leslie and I would drive out there and every time I would think, how can she stay out here alone? In winter? When she gets older? It didn’t faze her,” said Tom.

Kaber said her friend had just put a new roof on the barn and that her next project was going to be redoing the clapboards on the front of the house, which Friedman’s daughter,Anna has inherited.

“She really wants to live in it. They’d been coming up in the summer for years and years, so she really had a strong connection to it,” said Kaber.

Leslie said Friedman’s other daughter, Jayne, “is very much an urbanite, she’s happy in Chicago!”

Friedman’s Maine poems — the book also offers her distinctive take on trucking, road trips and the Midwest — are equal parts celebration and cautionary tales of rural life.

“One poem I worked with her on was ‘Tracey’s trailer is on fire.’ She brought it to the group once and it provoked some great discussion,” said Tom.

That poem was published in Tar River Poetry (as was “Flashlight in the Well”) and just got nominated for a Pushcart Prize, said Kaber. Other places Friedman’s recent poetry has seen ink include the Atlantic Review, Barrow Street, Best Indie Lit New England, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Miramar, the Naugatuck River Review, River Styx and Off the Coast.

Leslie Moore put ink to linoleum to create the image used on the book’s cover. The reduction print depicts a pair of Tongues of Flame pods, inspired by the poem “Dry Beans,” a finely observed portrait of late-fall pursuits. The book’s title is a variant on the poem’s concluding tercet:

 

my beans will bake up fine. They’re

elemental. Grown in earth and air,

they’ll fill me when I add water and fire.

 

For all the book’s delineation of country life, Friedman had an appreciation for town, too. Kaber said she came to Belfast every Thursday to do her wash, chat with the owner of Bella Books and have lunch at the Laan-Xang Café. “Karie was extremely well read in poetry and was able to introduce me to many poets I wasn't familiar with,” she said. “She has an extremely large collection of poetry books and journals and she wanted to donate them, preferably to the library in Belfast, keep them together as a collection. So that’s in the works.”

The celebration and book launch at the library is participatory, with attendees invited to read one of Friedman’s poems — “or one about Karie,” said Leslie. There will be a signup sheet for readers, book sales and refreshments.

“It’s the best kind of gathering, where everyone’s going to read something, so it’s not just one voice up there,” said Tom.

One voice will, however, infuse the evening, thanks to the poems in “Add Water, Add Fire.” Leslie said she recently read one of them in a local poetry gathering and former Belfast Poet Laureate “Linda Buckmaster said, ‘I can hear Karie’s voice!’ It’s there, in the rhythm and cadence.”

“Add Water, Add Fire” was produced via Moon Pie Press. To learn more about Friedman and read some of her poems, visit kariefriedman.com.

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