This is Frank Bidart’s first book of lyrics—his first book not dominated by long poems. Narrative elaboration becomes speed and song. Less embattled than earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time’s finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidart’s long career.
Mortality—imminent, not theoretical—forces the self to question the relation between the actual life lived and what was once the promise of transformation. This plays out against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamour of the eighth-century Chinese imperial court (seen through the eyes of one of China’s greatest poets, Tu Fu). At the center of the book is an ambitious meditation on the Russian ballerina Ulanova, Giselle, and the nature of tragedy. All this gives new dimension and poignance to Bidart’s recurring preoccupation with the human need to leave behind some record or emblem, a made thing that stands, in the face of death, for the possibilities of art.
Bidart, winner of the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry, is widely acknowledged as one of the significant poets of his time. This is perhaps his most accessible, mysterious, and austerely beautiful book.
In his seventh book, Bidart condenses his searing, guilt-ridden meditations on the possibilities and limits of the imagination into shorter lyrics, as opposed to the long poems for which he is known. Mostly written in the second person, this speaker addresses himself, fighting the fear that "...all that releases/ transformation in us is illusion" with the flailing hope that, "[t]he rituals// you love imply that, repeating them,/ you store seeds that promise/ the end of ritual." Bidart's rituals of consolation include replaying records from the early decades of recorded music; revisiting and revising old, failed loves ("...you persuade yourself that it can be/ reversed because he teasingly sprinkles/ evasive accounts of his erotic history"); watching a film of the aging Russian dancer Ulanova, who is "too old to dance something but the world wants to record it"; and learning caution and peace from the Tu Fu poem from which the collection takes its title. In his most intimate and vulnerable book, Bidart enacts a troubled longing to parse the real from the merely imaginary, the transcendent from the merely real, which is answered, even if incompletely, only by the human capacity to create, as "the irreparable enters me again, again me it twists." (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.