Big Men Speaking to Little Men begins in World War II Atlanta, Georgia, as the poet's birth is punctuated by a home run swatted out of a local stadium. That baseball hangs in the mythic Southern sky and simultaneously arcs forward into the poet's historical time. As the book unfolds, myth and history haunt such true and imagined places as a Hudson Valley high school where Ralph Waldo Emerson is reincarnated as a science teacher, a Bronx apartment where a small boy becomes a mirror to please his mother, and a Paris square where Victor Hugo plays hopscotch to achieve utopia. Throughout, Philip Fried explores with humor and compassion the intersection of personal myth and historical moment. He listens for the dialogue between "big men" and "little men" that helps define the self in history and the history of the self.
Philip Fried has the voice of an affectionate ironist and the wry ways of an urbane wit; but what Philip Fried also employs in this collection is an almost surgically keen deftness for giving us back the awful beauty of human circumstance. Some of the images here, quite literally, made me gasp with delight.
Phyllis Tickle, compiler, The Divine Hours
Philip Fried's new book represents much of what I admire in contemporary American poetry. Multi-layered but never opaque, these poems move gracefully from forest to subway, from a suburban drive-in to the Rodin museum, from post-war discovery to pre-war doubt. Fried's is a Jamesian view of this country and other places, where history is a companion at almost every table, an observer in the schoolroom, in the next seat at the theatre, where wit is tinged with tragedy and vice versa.
The poet invites us to consider that "the universe may have been / someone's orchard overgrown / now with herbs and loosestrife." This beautiful suggestion is characteristic of a collection which opens doors to a world we thought we knew but now discover to be a stranger yet wiser environment where we discover new selves, sharing, in Fried's words, "a mind / that everyone has, / that no one has..."
Philip Fried's poems go extraordinarily deep, with such a light touch - Big Men Speaking to Little Men is a delight but also a zeitgeist exploration of stunning originality and scope. Fried can move effortlessly from Victor Hugo to Freud, but there's nothing cerebral about the unnerving world he evokes, where "everywhere we go the chairs / worship in the empty cathedrals"; it's the world we've been living in without knowing it. "The Death of the Watchman," "Family Is a Stand of Talking Trees" - these are poems that define an arc, an ambitious engagement with the unknown. Fried's new book is a gentle but razor-sharp introduction to our new century.