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West Lebanon Poet’s Work Takes a Turn Toward the Fabulous



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, September 07, 2017

In some ways, Jeff Friedman’s latest book of poems, Floating Tales, is a departure from his first six collections.

The West Lebanon poet, who read from and discussed his new work Wednesday at the Norwich Bookstore, has typically stuck to more traditional forms of verse poetry, grounded in more autobiographical content, he said. But in recent years, he’s found himself drifting into the more experimental territory of prose poems — specifically, prose poems that emulate the ancient storytelling structures found in fables, parables and legends.

This is not so much a new direction, though, as a return to his roots. As a kid, Friedman devoured Aesop’s Fables and similar works, and he had originally set out to write fiction. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop-trained Friedman ending up falling into poetry mainly because the rhythm of it seemed to make more sense to him at the time: His mentor was a poet, for one, and his hectic schedule made it easier to think in terms of lines, rather than pages.

“But there was always a storytelling side to my work,” he said, even if this storytelling was slant in his previous collections. In Floating Tales, though, this narrative impulse plays out in humorous, sometimes political ways — for example, the prose poem Bear Fight features a love triangle between a man, a woman and a bear, and poses questions about the nature of identity and male-female relationships.

“A falling-in-love-with-a-bear story is a story you could only write up here,” in Northern New England, he said.

He likes that a fable is “not quite rebellion literature, per se,” but rather a guide on “how to survive in bad conditions.” Because fables and parables often transcend the realm of possibility, there is an element of magical realism in Friedman’s collection: Birds fly out of people’s mouths, dragons smoke out their guests and a character has a conversation with his own disembodied tongue, all with little fanfare.

“With our world the way it is, there’s no one talking to a body part, at least not one that talks back,” Friedman said. But just because a scenario is impossible, Floating Tales argues, does not mean there’s nothing to learn from entertaining the idea.

Floating Tales came out in August from the Asheville, N.C.-based MadHat Press.

New and Noteworthy

The Argentine cartoonist Ricardo Siri, better known by his nom de plume Liniers, is artist-in-residence at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. His work has appeared in international journals, as well as on the cover of The New Yorker. But his U.S.-released books have been geared toward young readers and Good Night, Planet, his third, follows suit.

It opens with a day in the life of a young girl, loosely based on his daughter. The girl tuckers herself out after a day of leaf-jumping with Planet, a stuffed deer loosely based on his daughter’s plushy companion of the same name. But after she falls asleep is when the story really begins: Planet embarks on a cookie-fueled adventure with the family dog and a wild mouse, barely making it back to bed in time for morning.

Liniers writes in his author bio that he and his family “love looking at the night sky in New England” — hence the name Planet — and the landscape Liniers captures in his panels is a dead-ringer for autumn in Vermont.

Liniers launches and signs Good Night, Planet Saturday at the Norwich Bookstore, from 10 a.m. until noon.

Bert Dodson, the Bradford, Vt.-based illustrator who has contributed to more than 80 children’s books, added one more to the list this summer: Zelma’s Farm, written by his wife, Zelma Loseke. The couple has also recently launched a small independent press, Zelma’s Farm Publishing, where a few more related titles are in the works.

The book, which Dodson and Loseke will sign copies of at the Norwich Bookstore on Sept. 16, centers on a young girl who manages to find positivity in the face of a terrible loss. This is in no small part due to her spirituality — the book reflects Loseke’s activity in the Christian community — but it’s also because Zelma learns how to care for animals with special needs.

Loseke herself runs a Newbury homestead for rescue animals, such as Lovett the one-eyed cat and a goose named Maize who had to learn to walk on her ankles. Loseke said these creatures served as a major source of inspiration for the story’s themes of resilience and compassion, and their characters appear in the Zelma’s story.

Though this is her first foray into children’s writing — she is primarily an artist, whose work has appeared at the Smithsonian Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art — she said she was moved to write Zelma’s Farm in part because she wanted to encourage a conversation about “how we as a community can better serve people with disabilities,” not just animals.

It’s a personal topic for both her and Dodson: As a child, he survived polio and a car accident, and is now living with Parkinson’s disease. Loseke hopes that Zelma’s Farm, as a story of emotional healing, can help bring attention to how those with disabilities survive in a world that was not built for them.

“In this life, you will go through suffering. You will be wounded,” Loseke said. “But after a while, those wounds become scars, and eventually those scars become beauty marks. You can get through things.”

Dodson and Loseke will sign copies of Zelma’s Farm at the Norwich Bookstore from 10 a.m. til noon on Saturday, Sept. 16.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.