Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart’s poems are spare, elliptical, and swift with movement. As Louise Gluck writes, “The importance of Bidart’s work is difficult to overestimate; certainly he is one of the crucial figures of our time.”

Many creatures must / make, but only one must seek // within itself what to make,” he writes in “Lament for the Makers,” and asks assistance of the “masters who by making were / remade.” The process of making—by a deity, ruler, parent, artist, or self—is at the core of Bidart’s poetic narratives, an incessant interior question. Other concerns that cycle through his poems are the shaping of minds and bodies, the fate of the creature, and the artist’s responsibility to himself and his world. Through dramatic monologue, indirect discourse, and history’s found phrases, and to haunting effect, his poems perform a kind of collage of modern identity.

A student and friend of Robert Lowell’s at Harvard, Bidart edited, with David Gewanter, The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell. Beginning in 1973 with Golden State, which was chosen for the Braziller Series, Bidart has published six volumes of his own, including In the Western Night (a volume of new and selected), and Desire (both published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, in 1990 and 1997, respectively). In 2000, the Academy of American Poets presented him with the Wallace Stevens Award, recognizing a career that has spanned more than thirty years and continues its grand arcs in Star Dust, Bidart’s most recent volume and a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award. Star Dust incorporates the 2002 sequence “Music Like Dirt,” the first chapbook ever to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Bidart lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches at Wellesley College.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 2007

Lament for the Makers

Not bird not badger not beaver not bee

Many creatures must
make, but only one must seek

within itself what to make

My father’s ring was a B with a dart
through it, in diamonds against polished black stone.

I have it. What parents leave you
is their lives.

Until my mother died she struggled to make
a house that she did not loathe; paintings; poems; me.

Many creatures must

make, but only one must seek
within itself what to make

Not bird not badger not beaver not bee

Teach me, masters who by making were
remade, your art.

From STAR DUST (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

Music Like Dirt

For Desmond Dekker

I will not I will not I said but as my body turned in the solitary
bed it said But he loves me which broke my will.

music like dirt

That you did but willed and continued to will refusal you
confirmed seventeen years later saying I was not wrong.

music like dirt

When you said I was not wrong with gravity and weird
sweetness I felt not anger not woe but weird calm sweetness.

music like dirt

I like sentences like He especially dug doing it in
houses being built or at the steering wheel.

music like dirt

I will not I will not I said but as my body turned in the solitary
bed it said But he loves me which broke my will.

From STAR DUST (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

Star Dust

Above the dazzling city lies starless
night. Ruthless, you are pleased the price of one

is the other. That night

dense with date palms, crazy with the breath-
less aromas of fresh-cut earth,

black sky thronging with light so thick the fixed

unbruised stars bewildered
sight, I wanted you dazzled, wanted you drunk.

As we lie on our backs in close dark parallel furrows newly

dug, staring up at the consuming sky, light
falling does not stop at flesh: each thing hidden, buried

between us now burns and surrounds us,

visible, like breath in freezing air. What you ignore or refuse
or cannot bear. What I hide that I ask, but

ask. The shimmering improvisations designed to save us

fire melts to law. I touched the hem of your garment. You opened
your side, feeding me briefly just enough to show me why I ask.

Melancholy, as if shorn, you cover as ever each glowing pyre

with dirt. In this light is our grave. Obdurate, you say: We
are darkness. We are the city

whose brightness blots the stars from night.

From STAR DUST (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)