Patrick Friesen’s A Broken Bowl is an extended poem, or long-poem about society in general, and life in a decaying world. This book deals with social disconnections from the “Natural Roots” or “Ground” of the world, and examines a sense of helpless frustration which leads to violence as an outlet. Verbal and visual images inter-connect scenes of violence which appear with regular frequency including in the form of televised news casts. Friesen’s long poem is documentary in style and offers a detached perspective that permits the reader to consider a longer, in-depth analysis of the violence affecting our society. A Broken Bowl illustrates, through verbal descriptions of human maliciousness, how violent acts erode the social and moral fabric of large urban centres. Friesen’s poetry indicates that this maliciousness will lead to fragmented destruction, loss of humanity, and ruination of the ecosystems which sustain life. The overall rupture is likened to a bowl when it breaks. In this long-poem, Friesen documents his private explorations and probings into chaotic, violent and immoral urban cultures. He expresses little hope for salvation, and so, breaks with some earlier views of the Canadian long-poem forwarded by thinkers and writers such as Dorothy Livesay who suggested that the long poem, might serve as a vehicle through which we could imagine ourselves avoiding self-destruction (see Open Letter magazine, Series 6, No’s 2 & 3). Perhaps the changes that have occurred in the latter half of this century have negated the possibility of a more idealistic approach.
Friesen is an accomplished artist. The smoothness of movement between objects charted and named, often leaves the reader breathless in trying to keep up with barely perceptible imagistic and linguistic shifts in this book. An alacrity of wit and perception connects the variegated absurdities seen everyday in our world. This writing is often surprising and always engaging. It is a work which demands, and holds, the complete attention of its reader(s) from cover to cover. A Broken Bowl was a nominee for the 1997 Governor General’s Award. Patrick Friesen lives in Vancouver, B.C. and writes for film, radio, television and theatre.