The Colorado Poet, #17, Winter 2012

Interview: M. D. Friedman

M. D. Friedman’s Leaning Toward Whole appeared from Liquid Light Press in 2011. His other books include The Body of the Mind, From Here to Here, Nothing Else Matters, and Where We Reach
Bob King: You dedicate the book to the memory of your mother, Eleanor Friedman, who died only a few years ago. Did she play a role in you becoming a poet?

MD FriedmanM. D. Friedman: Not really.  I mean my mother definitely introduced me to some great cultural experiences as I was growing up, especially in the realms of music and art, but she was very disappointed when I changed my major in college from chemistry to literature so I could study with poets Donald Finkel and Howard Nemerov.  She thought poetry was fine as a hobby, but never took my interest in it seriously.  She, after all, gave me the initials “M. D.” hoping I would become a doctor when I grew up.  Although I do find something healing in poetry, I guess I never grew up.

 BK: There’s something about your title, Leaning Toward Whole. It’s not, for example “Marching Towards Whole” or “Swimming” or even “Moving.”  There seems to be a balance, or, if leaning, an off-balance toward this Whole which is, it seems to me, a pretty big word in a title. Reactions?

Words are like jewels that a poem holds up to the light.

MDF: Words are like jewels that a poem holds up to the light.  A myriad different reflections dance on their surface for each eye to behold.  For “whole,” for example, I see “whole,” “hole,” “ho ho ho,” “la la la” and the sparkling of many more.  I think the best I can do is to lean into it, I am not strong enough to swim its currents or confident enough to march toward it.  Leaning takes balance to execute; being whole is all about being balanced.  Leaning Toward Whole embraces the perpetual transition from teetering on one foot to being grounded in who you are; it is about the possibility of reaching from somewhere off center into the core of your being.

BK: The title poem begins with a description of a morning (“Bristling sunlight / breaks the quiet / morning. Frost sublimes / without a whimper”) and it ends with something that reminds me of Buddhist meditation: “A vibrant / eye of light / opens the more intently / we listen, the more /gracefully we breathe.”  Is this coincidental or do you study Buddhism or some other meditative practice?

MDF: I have studied some Buddhism and other meditative practices throughout my life.  I learned early that the sigh of the spring wind and the magic babbling of a mountain stream serve as the best mantras.  I wrote most of the poems in this book as a student of Prem Rawat or while practicing the self-knowledge he teaches.

BK: In “Bedside Manner,” the main poem on the passing of your mother, you say the dying forget “all paths lead back, like breathing, / the way in is the way out.”  And in “Know Where To Go Crazy,” you say “the only way out is in.”  It seems to me that both are true, but someone might say they’re contradictory.  What’s with the contrasts you use: in and out, dark and light, noise and silence, finding and losing, fisherman and fish?

MDF: All truth lies in paradox, and at the same time, there can be no truth in paradox.  None of this seems any more contradictory to me than the fact that the sun rises out of the blackness of night, and that, without darkness, there is no need for light.  What we know as the truth is often lost in the logical constructs we use in an attempt to describe it.  If this does not make sense, that is probably a good thing.

BK: Some poems seem to me meant to be read aloud, if only in the reader’s mind. I’m thinking of “The Lost River” which begins “shiny shiny / go now / hungry/ thirsty / swallowing /being swallowed / this is it / go now” and ends “go now fisherman / caught in flesh / go now fish / go.” I feel I know exactly how you’d read those lines aloud. You have done a lot of oral/aural work—why do you find that important and how does it affect your written poetry and  your sense of the line?

 Some poetry sits better on the page. Other poems sit better on the lips.

MDF: Some poetry sits better on the page and has subtleties in the written word that can be lost when read out loud.  Other poems sit better on the lips, the sound and rhythm play that drives them need to be heard for the poem to be fully experienced.  Most of my work, however, lies somewhere in between.  In the written form, I use my lines like measures in music to suggest the pace of the poem and arrange my line breaks not only as a place to pause, but often as way to push the reader on to the next idea or image as the meaning changes with the words that follow.  I pay attention to anything on the page that can serve as a tool for making the poem “read” like I hear it in my mind, because those tools we have as page poets are few and feeble.  This presents a challenge that often leads me to experimentation.  For example, sometimes I hear more voices than one in a poem.  That is where my digital poetry experiments come in.  For all these reasons, a new multimedia e-book version of Leaning Toward Whole is now available at that features (along with the text) audio versions of selected poems and the animated, two-voice video version of “Know Where to Go Crazy.”

BK: Some poems are very free verse though with a left-hand margin, others are spatially constructed, a couple use slant-rhyme, one has no caps. What’s your attitude toward form for your work?

MDF: Fiction writers often talk about how once their characters have been created, they take on a life of their own.  Like these fictional characters, I allow my poems to be who they are, to dress themselves in whatever style they choose and express themselves in whatever form they feel comfortable.  Leaning Toward Whole, has a varied cast of characters from a semi-traditional sonnet to a free form meditation.  I think the poem will tell the poet what it wants to become.  The hardest part of writing a poem is often getting out of the way.  I believe Robert Frost’s said it best in his famous essay, “The Figure a Poem Makes” – Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.

BK: The cover illustration is one of your own works of art—digital, is that right? You’re also a photographer and a musician. Do the different media represent parts of your interest, do they come from the same place, or what connection do you find they have?

MDF: It all comes from the same place, wherever that place maybe at a given time.  The cover art is a digital art piece entitled, “Mother’s Whispers,” and was created around the time I wrote “Bedside Manner.”  They are tied together in my heart and mind as a major part of my healing after my mother’s death.

BK: This is your fifth book. How does it differ from, or continue, your others?

MDF: My other books are simply collections of all the work I felt worthy from a given time period in my life.  Leaning Toward Whole is a series of poems specifically selected from all my unpublished poems to synergistically weave together several specific themes toward a new understanding of self.  It is also a chapbook length volume that can be experienced in one sitting.  In both these, and in many other ways I shall leave unnamed, it is special to me.
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M. D. Friedman’s poetry blog address: