It’s a Wednesday afternoon around 5:45 p.m.. Keene State College English Lecturer Jeff Friedman is packing up his materials as he gets ready for his long car ride home. Among the books he’s packed away is his newest publication, “Floating Tales”- a collection of what he says is “umbrella-ed under prose poetry.” Floating Tales is Friedman’s seventh book he’s published, and when explaining what his book is comprised of, he said you’d have to go back to where he started.
Friedman was born in Chicago and grew up working in the Garment District in St. Louis, Missouri.
“I was really probably a poet of place,” Friedman said. “When I was much younger, like a kid, I was kind of writing these little funny tales and making up stories about my schoolmates in sixth grade, like someone kissing somebody who wasn’t actually doing it, getting people in trouble.”
From there, Friedman said his writing evolved over the years as he began to write family work poems. As he got older, he went through a point where his poetry was very morbid.
“Growing up, I was very funny and, you know, class clown early on in my poetry career,” Friedman said. “I wanted to be taken seriously, and I know when you’re being funny, you’re not taken seriously, so I kind of made sure everything was morbid and ended in death.”
But as time went on, Friedman’s humor couldn’t help but show through his writing again. He worked on more improvisational pieces and said he began getting up on stage with his friend in New York.
“I started really getting into letting my real personality come out too much,” Friedman explained. After this, he began working towards satire, which eventually turned into what he considers mini tales, fables, comic sketches, micro stories and even jokes.
Friedman said he was influenced by many Jewish comedians. He described the humor a lot of times as “these funny things, but sort of wipe the smile off your face by the end.”
At some point, Friedman said he decided, “There’s nothing wrong with entertaining people, making them laugh or making them interesting.”
In terms of his work recently, he said he is trying to get back into writing poetry in lines, but that most of his work is turning into fables.
“Over the years I’ve learned how to do different things with them…I’ve been able to apply them to situations in the world, being able to comment on political things and sort of make like a metaphor for [people] to talk about it,” Friedman explained about his recent works.
When asked what advice he would give to aspiring writers and poets, Friedman said to stay persistent and find your own voice through reading. He said it’s been fun teaching at KSC and getting his students to a place where they can let go and write interesting things.
“We’re all expressive animals; that’s why humanities is so important,” Friedman explained. “Because the greatest thing is we have this above everything else, we can express ourselves.”
KSC English Department Chair Brinda Charry has worked closely with Friedman for the 12 years she’s been at the college.
“We sometimes collaborate, we teach classes together,” Charry explained. “He’s been here much longer than me and he would always give me tips and ideas.”
Charry said she has read his newest publication and thinks he is a fantastic poet. She describes him as being lyrical, clever and funny.
“This is a very unusual piece of work in that it is prose poetry, so he combines the kinds of techniques and skills of writing of poetry and it’s got an ear for sound and image along with narrative along with storytelling, so I think he’s an exceptional poet,” she commented.
Charry also said she feels that Friedman has an ability to tell a good story even as he’s writing.
KSC senior and elementary education with an English writing option Ariel Freedman has taken four classes with Friedman. The classes included Creative Writing, Prose Poetry and Micro Fiction, Writing Funny and Writing Portfolio. While she hasn’t read his newest publication “Floating Tales,” she said she has read different pieces of his in her classes.
As a professor, Freedman said she feels that he gives good feedback.
“I feel like when I’m looking at his writing, I’m looking at an example of something that’s what I’m trying to write like,” she said. “He has a really bold style, a really provocative style and… it’s worded really well.”
Freedman also said she’s learned a lot from him having him as a professor.
“I learned what microfiction is and what flash fiction is. He’s also a good resource for if you want to get your work published,” she said.
Freedman continued, “He’s opened my eyes to different kinds of poetry that I didn’t know existed.”
Grace Pecci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org