Working in Flour
Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2011
Jeff Friedman is a great liar and an even greater comedian. As a liar, he remembers everything and nothing from the last two thousand years. As a comedian, he knows hyperbole, pacing, irony, and all the others. He can’t fool me though, he’s a true poet and those are façades. If he had written nothing but “Poem for Ross Gay.” If he had written nothing but “My Shammai.”
From Working in Flour’s opening poem’s comic-demotic-parodic confession of taking all the chocolate samples in a store, we know we are in the company of a poet who knows, as did Amichai, that we must laugh and cry at the same time. Jeff Friedman has written a wise and funny book, filled with bittersweet memories of a first kiss, work blunders, reconjurings of a Jewish working-class family, as well as antic surreal poems about sex. His new political and biblical poems read like small contemporary parables of mythic dimension. For its range of poems and its comic visionary American voice, Working in Flour is bloomin’ terrific!
Any reader who finds Working in Flour in the bookstore should start reading with poems such as “Notes from a Love Life” or “Ishmael” or “Presidential Logic” or “Bridge Street Café” or “Sotto Voce”—the spell and trance of their tone coupled with their humor will seduce you into buying this book. And buy it you should. It is marvelous.
How does hope survive the vicissitudes of life? Jeff Friedman’s ability to laugh and cry at the same time resonates deeply. These poems are celebratory and comic parables of fully embracing a complex, often mysterious existence, an embrace full of identification for Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike.
—Deborah Schoeneman, Jewish Book World