Poems by Dan Friedman
I’ve been writing poetry since I was a kid, seriously working it since high school. Only a few of them have been published, mostly in my younger days when I put more energy into getting published. For most of my life I’ve shared these poems, which sometimes flow like a mountain stream and sometimes trickle like a leaky faucet, only with close friends. I’ve written literally thousands of poems. Gradually over the next few years, I’ll be posting to this site the ones I like the best.
By the mid-twentieth century, when I was growing up and first encountering it, poetry was primarily a form to be read silently on the page. In its mainstream manifestation it had become inwardly focused, personal in its orientation and concerns, attempting to capture moments of individual reflection, beauty, insight and emotionality. In my youth, I read seemingly endless volumes of this kind of poetry and it became a significant influence on my work.
At the same time, I was quite taken with the work of Alan Ginsberg, particularly his longer works, “Kaddish” and “Howl,” and through him I got to know the magnificent Walt Whitman. This Big Poetry that was meant to be spoken aloud, to be performed, this outward facing, often socially-engaged, word-lusting poetry that Whitman embodies has been, in my lifetime, carried on by the Last Poets in the 1970s and, through them, to the rappers and “spoken word” artists of the last thirty years. This tradition has also, I feel, significantly influenced my poetic work.
The third major influence, I think, has been the folk tradition: the old ballads, the blues, the play songs, the dance songs, the rhymes and stories passed along orally for hundreds of years. I was introduced to the folk tradition by my parents and by the “folk music revival” of my youth. As a child and young man I discovered in the recordings of Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Donovan, Leonard Cohen, and so many others, new, sometimes dazzlingly poetic songs deeply marinated in the American and British folk traditions. This, too, has helped to shape the feel and form and content of my poems—and of my plays.
A fourth influence on my poetic output, one that is closely related to the ballads of the oral tradition, is narrative poetry, that is, poems that tell stories. Narrative poetry is a form that had gone out of style by the early 20th Century. When, as a kid, I was introduced by my Uncle Steve to the poems of Robert Service, such as “Dangerous Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” yet another creative door was opened for me. From there I went on to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Song Hiawatha” and “Evangeline,” Coleridge’s “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” While I have written few narrative poems per se, the unity of poetic word play and story telling informs, I like to think, my plays.
And finally, there are the politically radical poets, those who have created poetry infused with visions of a better world. As someone who grew up in a communist family and who came of age during the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, these poets were, and remain, an inspiration. Among my poetic heroes in this regard are: William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley in the 18th and 19th centuries and the communist poets of the 20th — Bertolt Brecht (Germany), Nazim Hikmet (Turkey), Yevgeny Yevtushenko (Soviet Union), Roque Dalton (El Salvador), Otto René Castillo (Guatemala, for whom the Castillo Theatre is named). Some of my poetry is explicitly political; all of it is informed by the spirit of my politic.