The twelfth volume of poems in the Walt McDonald First-Book Series, Gregory Fraser's Strange Pietα is a compelling exploration of illness and family life, memory and desire, friendship and loss. A major focus of the collection is the poet's relationship to his brother Jonathan, who was born with spina bifida, a disease that rendered him both physically and mentally disabled. In rich and often wrenching detail, Fraser describes the emotional turmoil, familiar dysfunction, and complex social responses arising from the birth of a handicapped child.
The book examines cultural standards of normalcy, and uncovers those aspects of the self and others that are often considered freakish, unnatural, or "monstrous." What emerges is a poetry of poignancy and intellectual rigor, of private discoveries and larger philosophical questions about faith, beauty, and the redemptive power of art.
The various other poems in the volume frequently take up disturbing subjects from domestic abuse to violent global conflict, from the death of a parent to the breakup of a close friend's marriage. By turns urgent, tender, skeptical, and wry, Fraser's work displays a complexity of thought with a clarity of language and imagery.
A two-time finalist for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, Strange Pietα is, according to Robert Phillips, "an important debut." Phillips also writes, "This book, from beginning to end, shows the hand of one who has mastered his craft and lived long enough to have something to say." James Olney of The Southern Review describes Strange Pietα as "a resounding triumph of strictly ordered emotion."