In Speak, Mother, Freya Manfred explores the mystery of dreams, love, and longing, as well as the power of loneliness, illness, fear, and death. In these lyrical, intuitive, and daring poems she brings some awareness and light into the darkness.
Freya Manfred always startles me by how close she gets to everything she sees.
– Philip Roth, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist
Freya Manfred’s poems speak often of the loneliness inherent in being alive in this world and the feelings of inadequacy, fear and helplessness. She says,
Lonely as a sore throat.
Lonely as a child singing in the dark
and she says,
I’m not as brave as many others,
or as calm, or strong.
She also says,
Each day I feel more lost, yet more in love with life,
among the growing crowds of the dead and dying.
Each night I feel afraid, yet more true to myself.
This is the fulcrum, it seems to me, on which the poems balance, the maddening contradiction that is this life. Though she confesses weakness, she faces head on the deaths of her parents, the losses and the sadness, and transforms these experiences into hard-won, beautiful, moving works of art, a vision of what she calls,
this sad, sweet, tragic, Fourth of July world.
– Louis Jenkins, author of Tin Flag: New & Selected Prose Poems
Freya Manfred is one of our truth-tellers, and in this new book of dream and memory, she speaks with the wry tenderness that comes when a woman can say “Now I’m the mother of the mother of me.” I started making a list of my favorite poems in Speak, Mother, and it grew to include every poem in the book. This is a book you’ll keep on top of that stack of books by your reading lamp; this is a book you will want to share with everyone you know.
This book is for you if you're a twin, if you know a twin, or even if you just care about parenting. But it's especially for you if you're the parent of twins.
One of every thirty babies born today is a twin, although from 1915 until 1980 the ratio was closer to one in fifty. This rise in the twin birth rate has been attributed to an increase in fertility treatments, and also to the fact that older women are having more of the nation's babies, and older women give birth to twins more often than younger women.
This book is based on weekly notes I took from the time of my pregnancy until our sons were in college. I didn't want to write a "how to" book filled with facts tied with perfect ribbons or a manual full of bullet points. I also tried not to editorialize, over-interpret, or pretend that we knew what we were doing. That's the point: we didn't. In practice, it was almost all improvisation. We found that many child-rearing theories and cultural fairy tales proved inadequate to raising two children born on the same day, so we formed our own philosophy as we went. Most importantly, during this twenty-year true life adventure, we were brought back repeatedly to a reverence for individuality that is especially difficult for parents to encourage when they're overwhelmed with the logistics of raising twins.
This book is broken into three sections. Section I, "Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle," focuses on the natural world and contains meditations upon fear, grief, dreams, rage, and acceptance. Section II, "Just Like a Woman," contains poems about marriage, written in many voices. Section III, "One True Thing," speaks of mankind's search for meaning, for one true thing in a perilous world.
"When I read the poems in Manfred's fifth collection, I am reminded of how Miller Williams said, "A poem must be clear to be mysterious." I admire these poems for their physicality, precision, and transcendence, though I struggle to describe them -- like most real poems, the best way to speak about them is to say them. So I say this is "work that weaves a spell, and love,/ and breath -- uncounted, irretrievable, sacred breath/ flying from its cage of bones -- eagle-falling, fish-rising, free." -- Review in Minnesota Literature by Katrina Vandenberg
Poet John Calvin Rezmerski says, "I've heard Freya Manfred's poems characterized as ‘vivid and physical,’ ‘deep and charming’ and ‘magical.’ That's all true, but it leaves out two important things: her poetry is full of elemental intimacy between self and nature, and it is steeped in beauty, whether she's writing about discovery or loss. This collection gives us joy, contentment, and melancholy, alerting us to the beauty of our worldly connections, in straightforward but agile language. In her poems, you can always find the feeling and embrace it.
Poet Robert Bly says, "This is the best book of poems Freya Manfred has written. She has always been brave, but these poems are more feisty and touching."
Ed. Scott King, Red Dragonfly Press, www.reddragonflypress.org. 2008. 68 pgs. (With artwork by Manfred's sons, Bly and Rowan Pope, www.popebrothersart.com.)
Poetry about mothering, raising children, and the death of a parent, concluding with a series of 39 lake poems, written in a boathouse.
Eliot Figman, poet and executive director of POETS & WRITERS magazine, says, "Manfred's subjects are family and friends and lakes in all seasons. Together, they are her 'home.'”
Poet Robert Bly says, "What I like about these poems is that they are not floating around inthe air or the intellect. The body takes them in. They are brave. The reader and the writer meet each other in the body."
Carol Bly says, "It is such a relief not to feel that she is lying or pinching other peoples' ideas. I find the poems marvelous -- her great sense of everything being sacred, and at the same time, somehow, really very funny. how can liturgy be a riot? But some of these poems really are."
Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, says, "This is a lovely and moving collection of Freya Manfred's responses to a beloved place, written with humility, generosity, and a deep sense of gratitude."
Professor Charles Woodard says, "There's such a range of believable emotions here, and the poet's voice is so engaging and resonant and true. This is a book of poems for teachers looking for ways to motivate students to care about poetry."
Ed. Scott King, Red Dragonfly Press, www.reddragonflypress.org. 2003. 100 pgs. (With artwork by Manfred's sons, Bly and Rowan Pope, www.popebrothersart.com.)
A young woman's candid and evocative poetic journey into the American landscape, and into herself. A tender, subtly insightful, and often humorous look into the sensuous world she knows and loves, and into her own body and spirit. These poems also deal with a more painful loving of relatives and friends.
"A lively collection of poems -- witty, serious, and imaginative." -- Publisher's Weekly
"This is a fresh poetry of body and blood...it is loaded with intriguing sparks." -- The Chicago Sun Times
"A strong new talent to be watched, a poetic voice to be heard." -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"As well written as anything you'll find these days, informed with deep feeling about friendship, change, and blood knowledge." -- Los Angeles Times
Poet Peter Klappert says, "Freya Manfred has perfected a distinct, flesh-and-blood voice that puts her right there in the chair across from you -- funny, exuberant, tender, curious, rebuffed, angry, wounded and always disarmingly candid. I don't think I've felt the physical presence of a poet as clearly... We know the poems are serious because they are informed with humor: playful or dead-pan or just plain naked."
Biographer Jean Gould says, "Freya's second book...reveals the maturing, emerging person within the poet, fully aware of her womanhood; feminine but not feminist; positive in her independent outlook, but not political. She doesn't pound, but persuades, seemingly without trying."
Poet and essayist Linda Hasselstrom writes, "Rather than relying on simple stridency...or political statements, her work encompasses the myriad possibilities of woman, including herself."
This poignant memoir recounts the artistic life and death of Freya Manfred's father, the prolific and highly regarded author Frederick Manfred. Using family letters and passages from her father's novels as well as her own memories, she explores their powerful personal and literary relationship, which spanned nearly five decades. She describes what it meant to be the daughter of a strong-willed man who was dedicated, sometimes at great cost, to a creative life. Her story starts with the tender power and beauty of his funeral in 1994, then moves back to a clear-eyed and often humorous depiction of their home life, which was shaped by her father's insistence on the quiet and solitude necessary for his writing. She remembers the shift in their relationship as her literary career blossomed and he added the roles of mentor and friend. Finally, she shares frank and loving details of her family's struggle to help her father die well.
Novelist Philip Roth says, "This rare book about the intimacy between a father and his daughter is notable for its affection, sensitivity, generosity, and gratitude. In a larger sense it is the revealing examination of an American writer's lifelong struggle with his material and with his cultural fate."
Poet Robert Bly says, "This is a very moving book. We often hear careful accounts of the life of an artist, but seldom the death of an artist. Freya's faithfulness to that transition is unusual and powerful."
(Nominated for a Minnesota Book Award and an Iowa History Award.)
Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN. 1999. 198 pgs.
Poet James Wright said, "There is a secret and proficient music in these poems that sings to itself, like the lake in Minnesota which the French mistranslated Lac Qui Parle, 'the lake that speaks,' after the Sioux for so long had been calling it 'the lake that whispers to itself.' This poet listens to herself. She hears the earth itself. Her approach to the earth is so patient and true that, I believe, her response to it, and to herself, will go on blossoming and blossoming. I can hear in her poems something that will outblossom hell itself and help us all to turn it back into earth again. I welcome these poems as I welcome spring."
Ed. James D. Thueson, Groveland Press, Minneapolis, MN, hardcover 1971, softcover 1975 and 1994. 64 pgs.