Reviews of Poetry Collections
Let me keep this short so that I don't lie. I have read Loon In Late November Water and Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle. Wow! Sometimes your poetry is so powerful that I curse, realizing that I can't match it. Sometimes it is so raw and real that I feel like crying and shouting, "Yes!" at the same time Sometimes the words are so searing that I can't bear to read them. But you have blown me away. You blew me away first with "Eye of Loon," which is the kind of nature poem that I try to write. You blew me away with "Stranger" because that's what I feel when I contemplate the end of my loving spouse, or myself -- which one first? I read "Thunder" and re-read it saying to myself, "This one's a keeper." That's the editor in me talking. I read "Fear of Literary Parties," and smiled knowingly. I read "Who We Are When WE Don't Know Who We Are" and said, "Yes! This is what my pantheism book is all about!" I read "Peace At The Lake" and loved the completeness of it -- how you've said what can't be said. That one is my favorite. I read "Fancy Killer Car" and thought, "What a strange mind she has! Strange but true to life!" "Who Will Help Me Die" is better than "Dread" because it gets right into the heart of the matter. "Remarkable Me" is a work of true humility, exposing "self" for the fragile thing that it is. I could go on but I don't want your head to swell. You're a damned fine poet, all right? Thank you for reminding me why I stick to prose. I can't wade as deep into feeling as you do and still be able to speak of it. Life, love, death, dread, joy, intimacy, the earth, the self, the other -- egads! You just don't give the reader a break! Whatever you do, Freya, don't stop writing.
Walt McLaughlin, Publisher and Editor, Wood Thrush Books
"In her ninth collection “Loon in Late November Water,” Freya Manfred confronts aging while celebrating poetry as an accessible and practical tool for living. A woman searches for “a poem so sad that my body could collapse into it… a poem which would also hand me one flower.” Poems “come like gentle friends every night.” Poems are spaces in which to work through struggle and strife in order to access the “joy and wonder” of the Minnesota landscape where Manfred makes her home. There she finds “water,/ singing a fierce wordless song of being here, alive.” The landscape is abundant with wisdom and inspiration; the loon in particular is a patient teacher. “I try to live like the loon, on the surface and below.” This move between surface and depth is evident in poems that consist of careful observation that open into profound sentiment: “You’ve swallowed enough guilt — and lasting sorrow.” She longs for “plain words,” and her work answers this longing with lucid descriptions and clear lessons such as “remember not to put duty and worry/ before peace and light and love.”"
Elizabeth Hoover, Star Tribune, April 21, 2019
"There is a secret and proficient music in these poems that sings to itself, like the lake in Minnesota which the French mistranslated Lac Que Parle, the lake that speaks, after the Sioux had been calling it "the lake that whispers to itself." This poet goes farther. She 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."
James Wright, poet, Lamont Poetry Award Judge
"A stimulating accomplished collection that seethes with visceral pleasures, sexuality and a yearning, hungry intelligence. These poems are naturally relevant. They are inside the blood."
Douglas Blazek, High Sierra Times
"A lively collection of poems - witty, serious, and imaginative."
"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
"This book is a complete delight - not a lightweight delight, but a profound, funny, and sad delight, evoking the laughter that comes from a recognition of the ridiculousness and sorrow of the human condition."
Ruth Whitman, poet, Radcliffe Quarterly
"As well written as anything you’ll find these days, informed with deep feeling about friendship, change and blood knowledge."
Los Angeles Times
“Her poetic view encompasses the myriad possibilities of woman, including herself. The language is positive and full of reverberations, but she’s not afraid to love men, and say so."
Linda M. Hasselstrom, poet
"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, wounded, angry, and always disarmingly candid."
Peter Klappert, poet, George Mason University
"No narcissism here. Discovery, recognition of what is - being there and being for - which makes for vitality, illumination and humor: a strong sensibility, a real woman’s voice."
Robert Harvey, Associate Professor of English, University of Nevada
"The quality of being at one with the earth, its waters, its green-growing lands, and the creatures, both human and animal, that live within its boundaries, pervades all of Manfred’s poetry. Freya Manfred’s lyrical affirmation of life is a definite contribution to contemporary poetry."
Jean Gould, biographer, Modern American Women Poets, Dodd, Mead, publishers,
pp. 309-319, one of three "younger" poets included
"Thank you for these poems, so full of love and so full of hate. So direct, so deep."
Thomas McGrath, poet and novelist
"What I like in these poems is that they are not floating around in the air or the intellect. The body takes them in. They are brave. The reader and the writer meet each other in the body."
Robert Bly, internationally known poet and translator
"Freya Manfred always amazes me by how close she gets to everything she sees."
"Thank you for the book. You’re a wonderful poet - so alive!"
"If I may be allowed an observation or two may I offer the following. All of us can use what you have to give. Warmth. Compassion. Light beyond brilliance. Glorious poetry said in a new way. You are more than a budding writer; you’re a writer, period."
Letter, Frederick Manfred, novelist, 1985
"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."
“My Only Home is a lovely and moving collection of Freya Manfred’s response to a beloved place, written with humility, generosity, and a deep sense of responsibility."
Ted Kooser, U. S. Poet Laureate
"There’s such a believable range of 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."
Charles Woodard, English professor
"I’ve always loved Freya Manfred’s poems for their blending of wit and physicality. My Only Home is full of poems like that, but also brings into sharp relief another quality of her work – she is foremost a poet of intimacy. We are accustomed to poetry addressing intimate feelings between lovers, between parents and children, between friends, but many of her poems enter into a kind of elemental intimacy. They dive deeper, into mother lust, into a physical bonding with water and earth, into the certainty of death, and come up having transmuted grief and fear into joy."
John Calvin Rezmerski, poet, English professor
“Meditative, big-hearted, sensual, the poems of Freya Manfred’s My Only Home unfurl like a single long silken filament of language spun out of fierce solitude and tender communication. Like the swimmer at the heart of her sequence, 'The Lake that Whispers to Itself,' Manfred observed the world at close hand, charting the signs of life, echolocating the primal impulses: ‘A door opens in the water.’ Reader, open that door, open this book."
Sue Standing, English professor, poet
“When I read the poems in Manfred's fifth collection, Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle, I am reminded of how Miller Williams said, 'A poem must be clear to be mysterious.' The book is broken into three sections: 'Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle' focuses on the natural world and swimming, one of Manfred's favorite activities; 'Just Like a Woman' contains poems about marriage (not necessarily hers); and 'One True Thing,' with its character sketches and graveyards, distantly echoes Our Town in a fresh, pleasing way. 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.' With drawings by her artist sons Bly and Rowan Pope.”
Minnesota Literature, Ed. Lucy Vilankulu; review by Katrina Vandenberg
“I have several books that I keep by my desk; these are my 'working' books, books I dip into for pleasure and inspiration as I write. Freya Manfred’s poetry collection, Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle, is one of them. Each time I pick it up, I find something new, some new depth of vision that I had missed before that makes me sit back and wonder, 'How did I not see this? How could I possibly have missed it?' What is exciting about this slim volume of poems is that each time I visit, I discover something new that touches my heart and gives me delight and insight. Her opening poem, 'To A Young Artist,' is a blessing poem from a wise elder to a young artist just starting out.”
Review on Amazon.com
"Manfred’s [Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle] comes in three sections – the first focuses on nature and the introspective revelations it allows or inspires, and the third directs toward the search for meaning in life. The second section, composed of poems about marriage, is perhaps the most arresting. Here the poet adapts various personas to tell stories of different marriages. An epigram preceding the poem, 'The Nemesis Speaks,' recalls a party guest’s overhead comment: 'My wife is my nemesis.' The imagined voice of that wife begins by saying, 'My husband doesn’t want me around so I sip/ too much wine to keep from choking him.' And she concludes by imagining herself 'cradled by invisible arms while I seek some deeper truth./ Truth, that thing he cannot speak when it’s all I ask of him.' Manfred’s 'Vanishing Point' begins, 'The moment arrives when you say/ I don’t dislike this man,/ but how did I marry him?' And the poem concludes with the dark realization that 'you’re running parallel to him;/ and you’ll never meet.' So much for happily ever after. But the darkness of these jarring poems comes along with other moments of affection and hope. 'Decisions Born of Small Gestures' closes this way: 'I’m sure of nothing, except/ that I don’t know what love is./ How is it when he beckons me with one finger/ my whole body follows?' Throughout this finely crafted book, Manfred reveals the risks we take and the faith we have open as to possibilities of suffering and fulfillment."
Nick Healy in The Corresponder
Minnesota poet and memoirist, Freya Manfred gives us her eighth book of poetry, Speak, Mother, which resonates with humbling gratitude and a deep longing for connection. Throughout the first section Manfred meditates on dreams as a means to explore a purpose -- alive, innate, unadulterated and unthinking - beyond her daily life and her sense of great loss. She claims, "Our dreams were born with the big dream," and shapes the dream world into a prophetic place, leading us home, connecting us to all things. In the poem, "Everything Dreams," Manfred writes, "Even when we die, we don't stop dreaming./We dream on, as water, as dust, as boiling rock, as bone."
Manfred's second section addresses the complications of love, the difficulty of friendships, her experience of aging with her husband, and her sometimes haunting love for her parents. In a searching encounter with an old friend or lover she exclaims, "I flew out of my body into the deep-rooted, dancing,/sweet, savage elms of New York City,//their branches reaching without finding,/finding without reaching..." This aching lyricism and a mystical joining with the natural world are present throughout the book.
The work's final section is filled with earnest storytelling about her father, mother and grandmother, all who have passed away. Through memory Manfred creates a sense of reunion with her lost family, bringing them back to herself and to us. This section has several longer poems about her mother in which Manfred explores her mother's modesty and practicality, and her transformation as she nears death. A longing for love in the second section grows and swells into a mourning of loss and a questioning of self in the third section. In "Mother Dies, I Write," Manfred asks, "When a mother leaves, what cup will we drink from?" Throughout this section we are reminded of our own beautiful, tender mortality as Manfred gracefully examines her own. In "When I Was Brave," she asks, "And why am I so precious to myself now/that I fear the smallest death on the shortest day." Through quiet, courageous lyrics, Manfred asks us to consider the hallowing uncertainties of aging, loss and purpose.
Review of Speak, Mother in the Corresponder, by Emile Marie Buehler
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.
Carol Bly, about My Only Home
Freya Manfred’s Speak Mother is like Mt. Fuji rising up in those Hokusai landscapes, above just about everything else.I’m struck again and again by how much she is able to say in these poems, with her enviable access to true feeling and wild association, things many of us have felt and would like to say if we only knew how.Those shocks and pleasures of recognition stay fresh with each new reading, the earmark of profound art.I think, and have thought for a long time, that Freya is one of the great poets of our generation, and I know I’m not the only one to hold this opinion.
Thomas R. Smith, about Speak, Mother.
Reviews of Memoirs
FREDERICK MANFRED: A DAUGHTER REMEMBERS
In this poignant memoir, poet-novelist Freya Manfred recounts the artistic life and death of her 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.
Freya Manfred 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.
"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."
"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."
RAISING TWINS: A TRUE LIFE ADVENTURE
Freya Manfred is a poet, author of six collections and a memoir, Frederick Manfred: A Daughter Remembers. In Raising Twins she shares the story of being the mother of fraternal twins, Rowan and Bly, from the first time they were seen on an ultrasound until they left for college. "(Bly) emerged with a cosmically fierce, angry cry, which ceased almost immediately when he was placed in a warm holding crib. ... Ten minutes later the doctor had to reach inside me to pull Rowan into the world. He emerged feet first and more reluctantly than his brother, with a soft, high-pitched wail and a look on his face that seemed to embody the infinite sadness of the universe." Manfred and her husband, Tom Pope, were afraid when they got the news they were having twins; Pope actually turned green. But they navigated the boys' childhoods with love and patience. How do parents honor each twin's individuality while acknowledging the strong link between the boys? How does a mother mediate disputes without showing favoritism? Today Rowan and Bly are handsome, talented young men who agonized over whether they should go to the same college, and their thoughts about being twins are particularly interesting. This memoir will delight parents of twins, those whose children came sequentially and readers who have no children because it is filled with introspection and tenderness.
Mary Ann Grossman, St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 2015
Describing coping with caring for more than one baby and guiding multiple birth children to adulthood as an adventure story is an interesting way to encourage other parents of multiples, no matter how old their multiples may be. Perhaps it takes a poet who somehow managed to take weekly notes on what her twins did and what family members said from the time of her pregnancy to her twins' early college experiences. In Raising Twins: A True Life Adventure, poet Freya Manfred recreates the "marathon parenting" demands and stress of the first year, the challenge of protecting two "very active" young boys from the consequences of their constant exploring and many experiences in supporting the boys into teen years.
The author thought she saw different personalities in her look-alike twin boys when they were born. In their second year, the twins seemed to take turns going through "developmental phases" and were already very competitive. They cooperated in escaping several times at a very early age. Later, several teachers commented on how well they worked together in more positive ways.
The feelings of the author and her screenwriter husband about their parenting experiences are revealed in reconstructed conversations which frequently are as amusing as the banter between their sons from childhood into the teen years. The family moved from California to the author's home state of Minnesota where the twins started preschool in their third year. The adventure continued as the boys participated in school and sports, sometimes together and sometimes apart.
Each twin's need "to feel special" at a very early age eventually led to a desire "to be seen as individuals" by going to separate colleges. While visiting prospective colleges, the author...wished that she and her husband...had "found ways to separate the boys more often when they were growing up" to make separation easier. That first year in separate schools on the East and West coasts was difficult. The adventure ends with the perceptive application essay that one twin wrote that enabled him to join his brother at Stanford where they graduated.
Each chapter starts with a thoughtful quote form a famous individual, and there are also a few short excerpts from a book by a renowned psychoanalyst on developing creativity in children. The author includes poems about parenting from her book, My Only Home, in some chapters. Raising Twins: A True Life Adventure and Freya Manfred's most recent books of poetry are available on Amazon.
Fall 2015 NOTEBOOK, published by Multiples Of America, a.k.a. the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc.