Poetry News

Frank Bidart's Collected Oeuvre Extends Lyric Possibility

By Harriet Staff
Frank Bidart

Heather Treseler reviews Frank Bidart'Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (FSG, 2017) for Boston Review. "His oeuvre, ten books now gathered in one 718-page volume, provides an incisive index of the latter half of the twentieth century, a startlingly truthful mirror of its myths and multiplicities," writes Treseler. More:

Born to a farmer in Bakersville, California, in 1939, Bidart grew up wanting to be a film director who made the “serious” art films never shown in his hometown. In college, encountering the work of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, he found literature more congenial, as his interests by then included aesthetics and philosophy. He came to Harvard University for graduate school in 1962 and, after years of “bewilderment, ferment, and misery,” began to find the prosody, subjects, and kinetic syntax that form his signature style. Though he has now lived many more years on the east coast than the west, he said in a 2013 interview that he remains “someone made in California, in Bakersfield. . . . Though everything I’ve written has been an argument with the world I’m from, I’m no less a creature of it.”

The geography of self, the wayward compass of desire, and the wilderness of our predicaments have long been among Bidart’s sustaining obsessions. Grappling with the question he posed to Bishop, “Am I necessarily an I at all?” he has brought his poems into territories in which few venture well. Unlike many Confessional poets, he combines radical candor with exquisite craft, converting the confessional box of Christian iconology into a hewn wooden boat, an elegant rostrum, a battering ram. The revelation of secrets, fetishized by many of Bidart’s peers, proves incidental as his narrators face the Medusa of memory, traumatic loss, or inveterate yearning. While secrets lure our curiosity, as keyholes into others’ psyches, Bidart’s poems draw readers across the threshold, startling us with the wildness of their interiors.

Half-Life regularly extends what the lyric can contain and how voices might escape the poem’s four-walled box...

Read the full piece at Boston Review.

Originally Published: August 11th, 2017