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This review is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Cover of Petty Theft
Ian PopleCarnivores
Nicholas Friedman, Petty Theft (Criterion Books), $22
Nicholas Friedman is a natural storyteller.  Each of the poems in this, his first collection, has a satisfactory trajectory. And this is not to say that the poems are too neat, or so constructed as to be airless. But there is a real sense of rest at the end of each poem. In addition, to that control of trajectory, Friedman is a very fine traditional technician. The forms range from rhymed quatrains to unrhymed sonnets, to pentameters, which Friedman handles with considerable aplomb.

The blurb for the book remarks on the title, commenting that the poems often depict loss.  And that is true up to a point. But Friedman tends to choose subjects that have a quality of isolation about them.  He is drawn to circus performers through the ages. An early poem in the book ‘The Outlaws of Missouri, 1883 commemorates the brothers, Ford, Bob and Charley. Bob is ‘the man who shot The Outlaw Jesse James’, as in the film with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. A year later, the two men are part of a sideshow, and finally the shooting of Bob Ford, too. Friedman’s sympathy is clearly with the two men who have now achieved an unwanted notoriety, which has lead, in their case, to addiction to laudanum. Later, Friedman writes about ‘Tiny Tina’ who ‘at two-foot-five, she’s queen of county fairs,’ trading on the description of her show as ‘Proudly ALIVE and EDUCATIONAL.’ The poem ends ‘a cul-de-sac of footprints when she goes’.

Friedman chooses these performers as exemplars of the way that ...


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