't mean to do it
Poems by Daisy Fried.
Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, $12.95 paper.
Reviewed by Susan Conley.
The poems in Daisy Fried's first collection of poetry,
She Didn't Mean to Do It, read like tough, urban fables. Formally innovative and thematically challenging, these poems traverse the geography of sex and teenage initiation rights, of America's pregnant girls whose voices of longing are like "a little jazz of rain." Winner of the 1999 Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize, these poems resist being pinned down. They roam the pages in a kind of tight, disruptive free verse.
The poet's eye is unflinching in its examination of public school, tough kids, and seedy carnivals, "the swinging of the Ferris wheel seats, / the shitty roller coaster, the boy she came to see" ("Carnival in Spring"). The brash authority of these poems compels the reader to enter the landscape Fried has painted, one where disenfranchised girls' voices are made of "rocks and dirty butter and cheap stockings / preg again or out of dope or don't hit me . . ." ("2000"). Often the descriptions are wholly unique, the syntax even unsettling. In the poem "57 May Women near Our Lady of Ransom," the lines are jazz-inspired and vital, chronicling young girls who are leaving school: "bodies spazzy with childhood, they jig in unraveling / lines at the parish schoolyard gate."
These colloquial narratives stake out the territory of girlhood and never stray far, depicting sixteen-year-olds stabbing one another: "mean girl, queen girl, dark girl / all girls concentrate as one in livid public school dark" ("Then Comes the Girl with the Tampon in Her"). One "fell back, died before the roses / were fully bloomed, after the magnolias / died . . ." Yet, the poems surprise in their humanity. Often they end with a prayer or invocation for salvation: ". . . If you cannot take me / under cover of night, if you cannot save / the whole world, what will become of me?"
It is not often we read poems with such fierce attention to class consciousness. Nor do we commonly see poems that transcend the myopia of the poet to chronicle unpredictable streets of the urban poor without leaking a kind of righteous sentimentality. Here the nights of anger and envy are portrayed matter-of-factly with "condoms starring the river path, all the / blow jobs gone home with the dawn" ("Bollocks by the Thames"). At times the diction is jarring and the camera lens slightly askew, as if forcing the reader to read just to get closer for a better view. This sense of displacement is crucial to the book, the vehicle with which the poems transcend the ordinary to become much more than pretty pictures. Instead, the poems become mini-documentaries, each one a tightly framed still of a fleeting moment in a young girl's short life.