Half-light Collected poems 1965-2016

Frank Bidart, 1939-

Book - 2017

"The collected poems of the award winning American poet Frank Bidart"--

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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2017.
First edition
Physical Description
718 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Frank Bidart, 1939- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Given his acknowledgement of Robert Lowell as a major influence, much of Bidart's work is, as Lowell's was characterized, confessional. He reports what was wrong with his parents, who weren't up for family life because of his mother's shaky mental health and his father's womanizing, neither of which Bidart could forgive. This lack of forgiveness seems to be what merits confessing, not his scholarly bent, homosexuality, or flight from his native California to New England. In the non-confessional remainder poems, he is even more a teller of tales, all from Roman, Renaissance, Mongol, and modernist-art history and lore. Four of these long poems are called "hours of the night," referring to the ancient Egyptian myth holding that, while it is dark, the sun god "must / journey through / THE WORLD THAT IS BENEATH THE WORLD,— / . . . must / meet, once again, the dead." Bidart's poems strive, more than anything else, to present particular voices speaking, which accounts for their distinctive punctuation (e.g., ",—") and idiosyncratic interior capitalization, more than to express meaning. But meaning there is, of course, concerning love, death, conflict, ambition, and disappointment, found between lacunae and jump cuts like in a Godard movie or an Eliot poem. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Throughout his long and celebrated career, Bidart has conducted a single-minded exploration of the sources and meanings of emotional intensity, the passions, fears, and cravings that drive people to do what we do, often against our own interests. We reach for what cuts us, spend our desire on what we can never have, destroy what we desperately need. Meanwhile, some of us—Bidart's favorite heroic and tragic figures, such as Mozart, Maria Callas, Édith Piaf, and Marilyn Monroe—create art, because, as Bidart says in his Pulitzer-nominated chapbook Music Like Dirt, "we are creatures who need to make." The creation of art, in Bidart's view, is the only means we have of transcending our circumstances, even temporarily. Bidart—a friend and disciple in the 1970s of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and then lifelong torch-carrier for their legacies, began with extended dramatic monologues, including his two most famous poems, "Herbert White" and "Ellen West," unprecedentedly sympathetic studies from the inside of deranged consciousnesses ("‘When I hit her on the head, it was good,// and then I did it to her a couple of times,—/ but it was funny,—afterwards,/ it was as if somebody else did it'"). Alongside these, he wrote subtle confessional poems examining his own identity as a small-town California native transplanted to the high-culture world of the East Coast. In the 1980s and '90s, his poems—from the The Sacrifice, The Book of the Body, and Desire—were about with human physicality and frailty, sex, sexuality, and its disappointments and dangers, as well as mortality: "Whatever lies still uncarried from the abyss within/ me as I die dies with me," writes Bidart in "Home Faber," a two-line poem. Desire also continues Bidart's ongoing series of Hours of the Night poems, miasmic long narrative pieces, like the insomniac stirrings of an endlessly restless, culture-obsessed mind bent toward the past and "Grief for the unloved life, grief/ which, in middle age or old age, as goad// or shroud, comes to all." Then come the short lyrics of recent books, which attempt to reckon with, among other things, a queer identity repressed and sublimated throughout an entire life: "Lie to yourself about this and you will/ forever lie about everything." Closing the book is a new collection of poems obsessed with elegy, memory, and still-persistent desire in old age; Bidart remains as good as ever. He concludes with the fourth (of a proposed 12) Hour of the Night, which he calls the "hour from which I cannot wake." As a poet, Bidart is one of my central models. Relentless and ever willing to face his demons, no matter how terrifying, in the interest of making great art, Bidart is, to my ear, one of the very few major living poets who never wavers, never repeats himself (though he has always orbited the same concerns), and extends his questing and questioning through each new work. This collected poems is an almost overwhelming bounty, a permanent book. (Aug.) Craig Morgan Teicher is a poet and critic; the editor of Once and for All: The Best of Delmore Schwartz; and PW's director of digital operations. Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"The collected poems of the award winning American poet Frank Bidart"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

WINNER OF THE 2018 PULITZER PRIZE IN POETRYWINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRYThe collected works of one of contemporary poetry’s most original voicesGathered together, the poems of Frank Bidart perform one of the most remarkable transmutations of the body into language in contemporary literature. His pages represent the human voice in all its extreme registers, whether it’s that of the child-murderer Herbert White, the obsessive anorexic Ellen West, the tormented genius Vaslav Nijinsky, or the poet’s own. And in that embodiment is a transgressive empathy, one that recognizes our wild appetites, the monsters, the misfits, the misunderstood among us and inside us. Few writers have so willingly ventured to the dark places of the human psyche and allowed themselves to be stripped bare on the page with such candor and vulnerability. Over the past half century, Bidart has done nothing less than invent a poetics commensurate with the chaos and appetites of our experience.Half-light encompasses all of Bidart’s previous books, and also includes a new collection, Thirst, in which the poet austerely surveys his life, laying it plain for us before venturing into something new and unknown. Here Bidart finds himself a “Creature coterminous with thirst,” still longing, still searching in himself, one of the “queers of the universe.” Visionary and revelatory, intimate and unguarded, Bidart’s Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2017 are a radical confrontation with human nature, a conflict eternally renewed and reframed, restless line by restless line.