Michael Webster wrote to say that Norman Friedman, my friend and professor at UConn in the late ‘90s, had passed away. Webster said, “On Thursday Zelda called with the sad news that Norman died at 2:00 a.m. that morning (November 6). Zelda said that he had Alzheimer's. There will be a memorial service on Monday, Nov. 10 at Sinai Chapels in Forest Meadows, New York, near their home… Sad news, but as we know, Norman lives on in so many ways.
"beauty is more now than dying's when" (Cummings)
My wife Jean and I have known Norman Friedman and his wife Zelda for over fifty years, as long as I’ve been married to Jean. During the spring and summer of 1956 Jean graduated from the University of Connecticut, we were married just before the U. S. Navy released me from active duty, and in the fall I entered UConn myself as a sophomore where I took a modern poetry class with Norman. I was a bit younger than he, but less than a decade, and I had been publishing poetry in the little magazines for three years by that time, so it seems to me looking back that our relationship was rather more friendly and neighborly than academic, for Jean began working for the university administration as an information specialist and we truly were neighbors in Storrs.
I finished the requirements for my B. A. in January of 1959 and enrolled as a graduate student instructor at UConn for the spring semester, and then Jean and I traveled out to the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa in the fall. We stayed in touch with the Friedmans ever after, and in 1984 I was doing the second of four annual poetry roundups titled "The Year in Poetry" for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook 1984, (edited by Jean W. Ross for Gale Research, Detroit, 1985, pp. 132-144). Here is a bit of what I wrote:
Those who know Norman Friedman's work will be astonished to discover, perhaps, that The Magic Badge: Poems 1953-1984 (1984) is his first collection of poetry. Those who do not know his work have some fine reading in store. I have quoted Emily Dickinson on how one recognizes a true poem. That shock of recognition occurs again and again as one turns these pages. For Friedman life is a dream, often a bad one. He writes a controlled verse-mode line, and his forms are loosely traditional, but within these structures hallucination occurs, the likeness of reality. Here is
"The Salmon-Falls, The Mackerel-Crowded Seas"
Patrolling the breakers with the insistent
intensity of gulls, all these people jamming
the beaches seem younger than I, having
been reproduced at a greater rate, millions
of assembly-line dolls coarsely made,
cheaply put together and as quickly falling
apart, in their shocking clothes and flashy
talk, swarming over the world, chattering,
they skim the coastline in flocks, flooding
the shore, foraging for food, rummaging,
raging for love, each with a frantic heart
as dangerous as mine, genitals as hungry,
genetic package as obsessed, each feeling
as much emptiness, as much right to ravage
the planet, they dive for clams or crabs
to snatch in talon and beak, lift up in
shocks of air, and let flash on rocks to
crack and be torn to glut the glutinous
meat within, scolding and clawing each other,
then jamming once again to swarm the seas
on their frenzied search, muttering nearly
intelligible cries, guttural and mournful in
my tireless throat, toys against the harsh
and unheeding scrutiny of the spoiling skies.
Friedman somehow turns people into birds, birds into the planet made flesh and blood, the planet and its hungers into himself. This is some of the best writing of the year, and of the years during which Friedman has been writing.
We all know what a fine scholar of E. E. Cummings Norman Friedman was, and that he was the editor for many years of Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society, but twenty-four years later I still think that’s a great poem, as fine as another Friedman poem I will never forget, “An End to No Encounter.”
I spoke with Zelda on the phone today, November 9th, 2014, and she sounded fine. She told me that Norman had suffered from dementia for the past seventeen years, since he was 72 years of age. Although she was his primary care-giver all that time, she said she wouldn't hear of him living anywhere but at home with her, and she is very grateful that they were still together at the end. He continued to recognize his family until the last. What a wonderful person she is, a wonderful woman living with a loving husband till death did them part.