"This is an amazing book. Brilliant language, startling imagery, fiercely accurate allusion, and bravery deserving a medal are the elements that create this explosion of masterful poetry. From what it means to be a woman in America to love’s variations to history’s baleful legacies and the Holocaust, there is nothing from which Friman flinches. I urge everyone to read Vinculum; it expands our understanding of what a poem is and what it can do—for us and to us."
- Kelly Cherry, on Vinculum
"Alice Friman’s Vinculum is a work that is mature and sustained in vision, with an eloquence that illustrates poetry as a species of musical speech while retaining a quality still conversational. The poems are insightful, witty, and beautifully made. It is the sort of work young poets can learn from, and older poets aspire to."
- Ralph T. Wilson, awarding Friman the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Poetry
"Friman’s poems—deft, visual and emotionally charged—may well serve as examples of poetic craft for generations to come. Indeed, these are poems in which the poet, by explaining herself, pries open the world of human limitation to reveal greater truths. She writes of herself, nature, love, art, and her relationship with others with such intensity that we soon realize we are in the presence of a genius . . . ."
- Sonja James, rev. of Vinculum in The [Huntington, WV] Journal
"Vinculum by Alice Friman: If you haven’t read a book by one of our most articulate contemporary poets, this marvelous new collection is a good place to begin. Friman understands the fragility of nature, the human body, and our often fractured spirit, and her sense of humor is winning."
- Andrea Hollander in 32 Poems
"In this time of division, financial woe, and war, it’s good to come across so self-assured and wise a vision as Alice Friman’s. She has found a way to express grief, history, and the pleasures of sexual love with a welcoming lyrical voice, warm humor, and classical restraint. It’s a voice that feels both timely and necessary. “. . . a brilliant sun / splashing down a merriment of leaves”—indeed."
- Phil Schultz, on Vinculum
"Gazing dizzy down the spiral stair of seventy years, Alice Friman muses on connection—extension ladders, ligaments, wires electrical or barbed. Sex, in moods ribald and poignant. Religion, if by religion we mean myriad ties, even with insects. Even with family. Often the poems are really funny—her impious wit startles and delights. Like Ariadne, Alice Friman spins out silky strands spanning centuries, continents, cultures. Umbilicus—the one between mother and son throbs even after fifty years. Th e electrical wire between father and daughter sends sparks between the dead and the living. These magnificent poems draw on ancient myths, family myths, personal myths. We’re whirled in the spin cycle of the everyday chore of facing death. “What’s imperishable is perishable / piece by piece” Friman writes. The Bernheim Forest lives by dying, in natural succession. At Birkenau, grasses sprouted from ash hiss around our knees. Exciting, these poems. Impatient, irreverent, irrepressible. Defiant. Dazzling."
- Peggy Shumaker, on Vinculum
"Ah, to earn a walk-on role in one of Alice Friman’s poems! Then one could join the global, high-low, lively, jivey community of Redford and Streep; Sexton and Rich; Jocasta, Medea, and Clytemnestra, plus “girlgangs tough as nails”; Dizzy Gillespie, Shiva, Modigliani, Greta Garbo, Rilke, Leonardo, Snow White, Ahab. But these poems aren’t just an oomphy Who’s Who . . . they can take us from the ashes of Crematorium IV at Birkenau to the glitzy on-stage kicking at Radio City Music Hall, always attuned to messages from “the air that trembles around / nakedness and the wine glass of the body.”
- Albert Goldbarth, on Vinculum
"Bridging subjects as diverse as a mythological cod, Harpies, and the Family Dollar Store, Alice Friman in Vinculum gives us poems as rich and textured as novels. Lusty, nuanced, and crisply wise, they remind us who and what we tragically, comically are."
- Jo McDougall, on Vinculum
" 'Heroism,' wrote Ernst Becker in The Denial of Death, 'is first and foremost a reflex to the terror of death,' and these are brave poems. They are exploratory, less the repository of answers than traces of the search for them, 'knowing / full well the coming sacrifice, / the shriveling end' (“The Price”)."
- Brooke Horvath, rev. of Vinculum in Prairie Schooner
"Alice Friman’s poems are like your wise childhood friend who still calls you, and it feels like yesterday. They are neither too distant not too close. They do not patronize you or need your approval. The poems are lush but not excessive, exceptionally smart but not pretentious. They are sensual and sexual. They draw on everything that connects us: art, science, nature, history, archetypes, pop culture—everything at hand in Alice Friman’s abundant world. In them, I find my own smaller world, my own stories, and my my own march through time. As a poet, I’m inspired. There is not a single poem in the collection that doesn’t move me—not one “eh” moment in the entire book. Not one. Remarkable."
- Tania Rochelle, rev. of Vinculum in The Chattahoochee Review
"[T]he poet, who begins each section (and several other poems) . . . in the November woods, announces herself autumnal as well—but what an energetic, witty older age she divulges. From these bare branches she branches out, contemplative, touching all areas of a life fully lived.
The speaker of these poems is wonderfully versatile. At times she addresses someone directly, forcing the poem to bridge the gap of time, and even death; at other times she sheds this privacy in favor of including the reader: “look at him,” she says, or “who said that?” Her questions can’t help but involve us: “Pitted against desire, what’s so hot about / counting to ten?”
At times, the “you” seems oddly intimate, as though she were speaking to you over coffee. At other times, she holds you at some remove, asking nearly rhetorical questions or else speaking in directives: “Think salmon—”; “Listen—”; “Let us speak of the ant.” The reader is both in and outside of the text; the effect is itself umbilical, writer and reader treated almost as a single entity.
Again and again, the poet returns to what connects her to a former self and to a deeper mythological memory. Who are the gods and goddesses but ourselves writ large? . . . [T]he ancient stories serve less as metaphor, more as a kind of contemporary confirmation. Inviting her child self to participate, the poet reconsiders her life from the vantage point of her seventy years. And nothing suffers. She reanimates emotion—not remembered, but relived ….
She has remembered and honored the dead by being intensely alive. She has deftly combined serious frivolity with fervent solemnity. Indeed, she has translated what has been into what could be."
– Judith Kitchen in The Georgia Review
"In 2006, I read an Alice Friman poem on Poetry Daily. I don’t recall which poem it was, only that it moved me so much that I was compelled to search for her contact information, which is saying a lot, because I’m pretty lazy. I asked her to submit to The Chattahoochee Review, for which I was poetry editor at the time. She obliged, and we published “The American Heritage,” which now appears in section IV of her most recent book, Vinculum. I recognized that nearly-impossible balance of music, image, attention to language, and the one thing so many proficiently written poems lack: the lightning strike that can reduce me to a smoky wisp or charge me up like a superhero. It makes no difference to me—wisp or hero—but I want to be changed by the event of a poem. The best poets do this consistently. Alice Friman is such a poet.
Let’s take a look at a case in point, “Depression Glass,” a poem about a child’s memory, and about the antipathetic dynamics between siblings or, more accurately, between writer and non-writer:
It must have been October, right after
the annual hanging of the winter drapes
and the ceremonial unrolling of the rug
from its summer sleep behind the sofa.
Gone were the slipcovers … (lines 1-5)
The first line suggests the tentative quality of memory, the piecing together, and creates a subtle tension reinforced by the second stanza:
My sister would say this never happened
or if it did, it wasn’t this way, or if it was,
I never cried, or if I did, how could I—
so young—know what was to cry about. (lines 15-18)
Note the rhythm of those lines, ringing with the perpetual quarrel. Then comes the heart of the memory:
When suddenly, there was my father
dancing to the radio or some crazy song
of his own making, flapping his arms
and yawping like a great enchanted
gull of happiness having nothing to do
with me. Or her. And I saw as through
the glass layers of the sea what he’d
been before I came in my little boat
grinding its vast engines of responsibility,
dragging him under, changing him into
someone other than the drowned beloved
I’d be trying to make it up to all my life. (lines 24-35)
If I were Queen of Poetry and could demand things of poems and poets, I would decree that all poems have these elements: the music of “…the ceremonial unrolling of the rug / from its summer sleep behind the sofa,” the image quality of “flapping his arms / and yawping like a great enchanted / gull of happiness,” the attention to language exemplified by “the drowned beloved,” and, most important of all, something akin to the impossibility of a four-year-old seeing “as through the glass layers of the sea what he’d / been before I came in my little boat,” lines that continue to resonate. The poem speaks of the writer’s life, or the life of any artist—that obsession with a memory, an image, an idea—something the sister could never understand.
“Depression Glass” has more narrative moments in it than most of the poems in Vinculum, and I am partial to narrative poetry. Hailing from the redneck side of Southern, I feel more at home in it. Lyric poems give me anxiety, the way formal dinner parties and symphonies do. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them; I aspire to write great lyric poems. But I’m an outsider. They’re just so lovely and polished, and I’m all cough and elbows. Alice Friman’s lyric poems, however, welcome me. As erudite as they are, populated with gods and saints I’ve forgotten, plants and insects I’ve never heard of, and places and artists I had to look up, they include me in the conversation, even the ekphrastic poems, which are generally a hard sell. While great art and artists can seem otherworldly, larger than life, and while many poets merely extend that distance and largeness, Friman brings great warmth and immediacy to both painter and subject. She is not afraid to scale them down to actual size, as in “Leonardo’s Roses,” which turns tender after beginning so irreverently:
Leonardo was convinced
sperm came down from the brain
through a channel in the spine.
So much for genius. I say … (lines 1-4)
I never get the impression that Friman’s showing off or “looking over her shoulder,” as a friend once said of a certain poet regarding his studied cleverness. Friman’s poems, even the pure lyrics, radiate humor and humanity. She pays tribute to the dead; she celebrates love, the passage of time, and the body; and she honors love in an aging body. In “Imitating Nature,” her belly is “…this talcumed / absence of muscle, this stretch of sky / soft as a buttoned cushion” (lines 20-22), and down below the belly, we find:
Folly, the little lady herself,
sashaying onto the dance floor
each time the band strikes up, carrying
nothing but a parasol and a little red purse. (lines 43-46)
And don’t dare imagine she gives the male anatomy short shrift. In “The Mythological Cod,” Friman gives us “That pair of maracas, / that holy treasure trove / of Russian dolls” (lines 32-34). The collection is rich with physicality, with bodies past their youth that are dragged into action by the unflagging spirit. We should all grow old this way.
Alice Friman’s poems are like your wise childhood friend who still calls you, and it feels like yesterday. They are neither too distant nor too close. They do not patronize you or need your approval. The poems are lush but not excessive, exceptionally smart but not pretentious. They are sensual and sexual. They draw on everything that connects us: art, science, nature, history, archetypes, pop culture—everything at hand in Alice Friman’s abundant world. In them, I find my own smaller world, my own stories, and my own march through time. As a poet, I’m inspired. There is not a single poem in the collection that doesn’t move me—not one “eh” moment in the entire book. Not one. Remarkable."
-From All Things Connected: A Review of Alice Friman’s Vinculum by Tania Rochelle. Published in The Chattahoochee Review, Winter 2011.
"These poems are evidence that, book by book, she’s becoming stronger in spirit, smarter, more resourceful in coping with pain and difficulty, more passionate about trees and creatures, sharper in her insights and observations, and generally more capable of calling up poetry’s alchemical powers to convert despair into song and discouragement into a battle cry.
. . . [S]he ends up making a making a gift to us readers out here on the other side of the page. But as we read, we’re aware of her disinterest in us and our wanting and needing the poem to give us something useful. Which mades her all the more trustworthy."
– David Huddle in The Hollins Critic
"Alice Friman’s “Vinculum” embraces the internal, the deep inside, the emotional interior as it interacts with our biological makeup. A “vinculum,” the horizontal line that appears between two numbers that are being divided, or to indicate repeating digits in a decimal, can also be translated as a “bond” or “tie” between two ideas. Friman’s attempt at creating a connective tissue between her poems is so successful that often individual poems fold back into themselves, each moment relating and recreating another.
“Vinculum” seems to work with three major concepts: the body, the location, the emotional moment or instance. In almost all of the poems there is an interaction between these that gives the reader a strong, multidimensional experience. From her poem, “The Waiting Room,” she writes:
Imagine the humiliations of the flesh
fumbling to cover up in that waiting room
of white trees, those totems of eyes. Imagine
your mother, her sparse patch. The unopened
pink purse that is your daughter. Then now,
with the wind up and the whipping grasses
wild at your knees, before the dogs come,
hurry write the choke of terror.
This examination of how the body can interact with a given landscape seems, at times, to be both complicated and chaotic. Friman’s language is dense, or, the poems themselves require a certain level of unpacking. “Vinculum” is sectioned into six parts (the last part is a postlude). The sections were incredibly helpful, as they allow the reader to move through the collection without getting too overwhelmed by the thickness of each piece, adding a quick breath in which one could recover and therefore, re-immerse.
Friman’s relentless, beautiful analysis of our in-betweenness, our connectedness, the “ropes that seethed from me to you and back again,” ultimately gives the reader a direct way to identify with the speaker. “Vinculum” does not shy away from personal interactions, and it openly, fearlessly, but often gracefully, crosses our boundaries."
- Kelly Forsythe in NewCityLit.com