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About this poet

Frank Bidart was born in Bakersfield, California on May 27, 1939 and educated at the University of California at Riverside and at Harvard University, where he was a student and friend of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.

His first volume of poetry, Golden State (G. Braziller, 1973), was selected by poet Richard Howard for the Braziller Poetry series, but it wasn't until the publication of The Sacrifice (Random House, 1983) that Bidart's poetry began to attract a wider readership. Bidart's early books are collected in In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990).

His recent volumes include Metaphysical Dog: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013); Watching the Spring Festival: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008); Star Dust (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005); Music Like Dirt (Sarabande Books, 2002); and Desire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic's Circle Award. He is also the co-editor of Robert Lowell's Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).

About his work, the former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück has said, "More fiercely, more obsessively, more profoundly than any poet since Berryman (whom he in no way resembles) Bidart explores individual guilt, the insoluble dilemma." And about his career as a poet, she said, "Since the publication, in 1973, of Golden State, Frank Bidart has patiently amassed as profound and original a body of work as any now being written in this country."

His honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation Writer's Award, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, and The Paris Review's first Bernard F. Conners Prize for "The War of Vaslav Nijinsky" in 1981. In 2007, he received the Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

Bidart was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2003. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has taught at Wellesley College since 1972.


Selected Bibliography

Metaphysical Dog: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)
Watching the Spring Festival: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
Star Dust (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)
Music Like Dirt (Sarabande Books, 2002)
Desire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997)
In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990)
The Sacrifice (Random House, 1983)
Golden State (G. Braziller, 1973)


Multimedia

From the inaugural Poets Forum, October 20, 2007From the Image Archive

 

California Plush

Frank Bidart, 1939
The only thing I miss about Los Angeles

is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
radio blaring
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard
blazing

—pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars

—descending through the city
                   fast as the law would allow

through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep

              and you on top; the air
              now clean, for a moment weightless

                        without memories, or
                        need for a past.



The need for the past

is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
my reconciliation.

                   It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
                                      I hesitated,
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father

but he wanted to, so we entered

a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide 
booths—

I thought of Cambridge:

                   the lovely congruent elegance
                   of Revolutionary architecture, even of

ersatz thirties Georgian

seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not—

to bode order and lucidity

as an ideal, if not reality—

not this California plush, which

                       also

I was not.

And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.

         And now, staring into the embittered face of 
         my father,

again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
     I was back.

              The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no...



Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following
document:

         Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone, 
a drink in her hand:

                   as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":

                                  Name   Wallace du Bois
                                  Box No  128     Chino, Calif.
                                  Date   July  25   ,19 54

Mr Howard Arturian
     I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing. How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for 
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much. I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
paint. So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
this. I know how to straighten metals and all that. I forgot to say
"Hello" to you. The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you. So I wanted to know if its truth. When
I go to the Board in Feb. I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
my family. The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that 
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
too.and another thing is my drinking problem. I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
     This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again. This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before. So Howard you can let me know soon
as possible. I sure would appreciate it.

P.S                                    From Your Friend
I hope you can read my                 Wally Du Bois
writing. I am a little nervous yet

—He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.

When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:

he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."

It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop—



For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth

I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
         not uninteresting at all:

         they were the same. Every plate and chair

         had its congruence with

         all the choices creating

         these people, created

         by them—by me,

for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.

Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions...




He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield

after five years

of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.

But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for 
an afternoon of talk...

He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond."

And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A—, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M—,
good horseman, good shot.

"But when your mother 
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.

We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley."

When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,

because I had heard it 
many times,

in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.

He hesitated. "Bored, I guess.
—Not much to do."

And why had Nancy's husband left her?

In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much."

And that was how experience
had informed his life.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."



Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,

"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much. Gladys
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"

It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:

the past in maiming us,
makes us,
fruition
         is also
destruction:

              I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel

—his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities

which have led him to this room, writing

—in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?

              And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,

who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon

—does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by 
                   "the order of the universe"

—does he will 
anything reversed?



                   I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris—; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
to watch...

must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;

every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable...
—I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle

guidance of my life—; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?

From In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-1990, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990. Copyright © 1973 by Frank Bidart. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-1990, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990. Copyright © 1973 by Frank Bidart. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart was born in Bakersfield, California, in 1939 and educated at

by this poet

poem
Bound, hungry to pluck again from the thousand 
technologies of ecstasy

boundlessness, the world that at a drop of water 
rises without boundaries,

I push the PLAY button:--

. . .Callas, Laurel & Hardy, Szigeti

you are alive again,--

the slow movement of K.218
once again no longer

bland, merely
poem

 

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poem

 

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