Bidart, Frank

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Nationality: American. Born: 1939. Education: Graduated from University of California, Riverside. Career: Member of the department of English, Wellesley College, Massachusetts. Also teaches at Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1979; Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Foundation writer's award, 1993; Morton Dauwen Zabel award, 1995; Lannan award, 1998; Rebekka Bobbitt award for poetry, 1998. Address: Department of English, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts 02181, U.S.A.



Golden State. New York, Braziller, 1973.

Happy Birthday. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pomegranate Press, 1973.

The Book of the Body. New York, Farrar Straus, 1977.

The Sacrifice. New York, Random House, 1983.

Frank Bidart. New York, Dia Art Foundation, 1988.

In the Western Night: Collected Poems, 1965–1990. New York, Farrar Straus, 1990.

Desire: Collected Poems. New York, Farrar Straus, 1997; Manchester, Carcanet, 1998.


Critical Studies: "Two Examples of Poetic Discursiveness" by Robert Pinsky, in Chicago Review (Chicago), 27(1), 1975; "Wellesley Poets: The Works of Robert Pinsky and Frank Bidart" by Alan Nadel, in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly (Middlebury, Vermont), 4(2), Winter 1981; "The Sin of the Body: Frank Bidart's Human Bondate" by Brad Crenshaw, in Chicago Review (Chicago), 33(4), Winter 1983; interview by Mark Halliday, in Ploughshares (Boston), 9(1), 1983; "Out Beyond Rhetoric: Four Poets and One Critic" by David Young, in Field (Oberlin, Ohio), 30, Spring 1984; "Frank Bidart: A Salute" by Seamus Heaney, in Agni, 36, 1992; "'Necessary Thought': Frank Bidart and the Postconfessional," in Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin), 34(4), Winter 1993, and Travel and the Trope of Vulnerability in the Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Frank Bidart and John Ashbery (dissertation), University of California, Riverside, 1994, both by Jeffrey Gray; by Stephen Yenser, in Yale Review (New Haven, Connecticut), 86(2), 1998; interview by Timothy Liu, in Lambda Book Report, 6(9), 1 April 1998.

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Frank Bidart's first book of poems, Golden State, was published in 1973 as part of the Braziller poetry series, then being edited by the poet Richard Howard. Known for the inroads he himself had made with dramatic monologues, Howard introduced a volume that slipped into the loud circle very quietly but soon created a cultlike audience for its formal and thematic advances. Bidart's verse collection, The Book of the Body, appeared in 1977, but it was not until 1983, when The Sacrifice was published, that the poet's work began to find the wide readership and attention it deserved from the outset.

For readers who were weaned in America in the post-World War II discourse between free verse and received forms, these three collections came as a revelation and embodied a radical new prosody. Golden State contains the dramatic monologue of a rapist named Herbert White; The Book of the Body carries forth the voice of the anorexic Ellen West; The Sacrifice includes Bidart's most ambitious poem to that point, "The War of Vaslav Nijinsky."

Bidart's sense of voice, his sense of "fastening the voice to the page," has always involved both a mimetic action—an "imitation" of character and a mirror held up to the psyche of the speaker—and, through the prosody of his poems, actions unto themselves. This is the remarkable achievement of Bidart's contribution to American poetry, and it is at the same time a prosody that has yet to be absorbed in American verse, perhaps because it is inimitable, unassimilable. Bidart's accomplishment stems partly from a learned reinvention of punctuation, capitalization of words, and spacings on the page. It is as if he has made punctuation a character on the page, opened its door and wrung out its possibilities, and in the process wedded punctuation to syntax so that the two are indistinguishable. His skill with the formal properties of language has effected a typography whereby words can actually be heard on the page.

Bidart was for a time a student and compatriot of Robert Lowell and has since taken the ethos of the Lowell generation to an entirely new place, pitch, and mode of composition. His monologues have about them little of the meditative irony that so inspired and plagued an earlier generation of poets. Rather, they are in their earnest melodrama akin to the voice of a Lear, an Augustine staggering through, staging their spiritual autobiographies through their speaking voices.

Bidart looks in his poems into the causes of things, the why of what is, and it is the triumph of his art that the forces behind things can be brought forth so seamlessly yet in so obviously constructed and wrought a manner.

In the Western Night: Collected Poems, 1965–1990 includes verse from Bidart's three previous books as well as new work. In its collected context the volume gives readers the opportunity to scrutinize the work of one of the most original poets writing in English.

—Liam Rector