Patrick Friesen

Patrick Friesen is one of the most well-known poets from a Mennonite background. Born and raised in Canada, Friesen currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he is a professor of creative writing at Kwantlen University. He started writing continuously at the age of 18 and has continued the practice throughout his adult life. Friesen's impressive list of publications includes 12 books of poetry, a book of essays, a book of poetry translations, two improvisational CDs, two full-length plays, and numerous radio pieces.

Friesen was born in a small Mennonite community in Manitoba in 1946. He made a physical and religious break with his community at a young age, and profound questions about religion and tradition permeate much of his work. One clear example of Friesen's work with these concerns is The Shunning (1980), a novel-length poetic drama which explores the painful excommunication of a Mennonite farmer who questions his church.

In a 2004 interview Friesen said, "Being of Mennonite background had all kinds of effects on my content."  Because he felt he had too much "form," or rules, in his upbringing, he has tended "to shy away from received forms"; instead he works on at a poem into it has the form he desires. His recent work reveals a grappling with and integration of a varied array of religious ideas. Music is also a strong influence in Friesen's poetry, both the hymns he grew up singing with his family and the rock 'n' roll and jazz he embraced later.

Friesen's mother taught him to read at an early age, which led him into writing. Friesen says he began writing stories "almost as soon as I could write at all," and started writing poetry in high school. After a few of his poems were published in The Mennonite Mirror, a famous Canadian poet named Dorothy Livesay contacted him about his poems. She wanted him to accompany her to a reading, but he was terrified and declined. A couple of years later, he finally agreed to go to a reading with her and a group of other poets, which  jump-started his now prolific career. But Friesen still hestiates to view himself as a writer by occupational choice. "I didn't know there was such a thing as a 'career' in writing," he said (in a 2004 interview), "and I still don't think of myself as really being in a career. I think it's just the way I understand myself and the world around me."

Friesen has been publishing poetry since the 1970s, and has recently branched out into other art forms including several collaborations with jazz pianist Marilyn Lerner. His books of poetry were shortlisted for numerous awards. A Broken Bowl was a finalist for the Govenor-General's Award for Poetry in 1997, and Blasphemer's Wheel won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award in 1994. His most recent book of poetry, Earth's Crude Gravities (2007) contains musings on the spiritual and the material world. Reviewer Janice Kulyk Keefer calls the book "part spirtual autobiography and part distilled observation," with a lyric musical style and eloquent transcendence.



Sources

Enright, Robert. “Parallel Language: A Conversation Between Patrick Friesen and Robert Enright.” Prairie Fire (1992): 11-27.

Friesen, Patrick. E-mail Interview with Cally Feldman. 17 Oct. 2004.

Friesen, Patrick. E-mail Correspendence with Anita Hooley. 5 July 2007.

"Manitoba Author Publication Index: Patrick Friesen" 5 Oct. 2004. <http://mbwriter.mb.ca/mapindex/f_profiles/friesen_p.html>. 

"Patrick Friesen" and "Earth's Crude Gravities." 17 July 2007. <http://www.patrickfriesen.com>.

Reimer, Douglas. Surplus at the Border: Mennonite Writing in Canada. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 2002.
 
Cally Feldman and Anita Hooley
anita.hooleygmail.com
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