As I am preparing to travel to the United States once again – it has been two years since the last visit – I am slowly recovering from two very bad years (as most of you), I meant to discuss something that happened on my previous visit to the states.
At the reading, due to a scheduling issue, an introductory speaker had been needed on short notice and I had the incredible and rare fortune to be allowed to introduce this poet who has meant so much to me as a person and writer.
There is very little else I can say at this point that will offer an adequate explanation of the gravity and importance of that moment. I did end up forcing my chapbook in Bidart’s hands and I think I emailed him a ton of poems, because I could not resist. Please read my short text on Bidart and please read his poetry.
I am currently nursing, let’s say, an obsession, with Frank Bidart’s slim but excellent work. This is from his first collection, Golden State, which can be found in In The Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90, which I recommend highly.
Frank Bidart: To My Father
I walked into the room.
There were objects in the room. I thought I needed nothing
from them. They began to speak,
but the words were unintelligible, a painful cacophony…
Then I realized they were saying the name
of the man who had chosen them, owned them,
ordered, arranged them, their deceased cause,
the secret pattern that made these things order.
I strained to hear: but
the sound remained unintelligible…
senselessly getting louder, urgent, deafening.
Hands over my ears, at last I knew they would remain
inarticulate; your name was not in my language.
The whole book is about making, how the desire to make is built into us, its necessities and pleasures and contradictions. The impulse to make is itself neither good nor bad. It is a species of the will to power, which is inseparable from survival and creation. It is inseparable from the impulse to destroy. The most ferocious enactment of the will to power always must confront metaphysical and epistemological limits: in the poem (not in Eliade): “Once you reach what is / inside it is outside.” Human beings constantly strive to reach the heart of something: when they reach it they find it is only another surface. Art strives to be that center that has reached the light, and remains the center: in Ashbery’s brilliant phrase, the “visible core.”
Here is Frank Bidart reading his poem “Romain Clerou”. Bidart, as I must have said somewhere before, is one of my favorite living poets, or anyway one of those whose work most stuns me, whom I admire and love most. You can find this poem in his 2005 collection Star Dust.
The artist’s problem is to make life show itself. Homer, Aeschylus, Vergil, Shakespeare – a great deal of Western art has made life show itself by dramatizing crisis and disaster. (…) Again and again, insight is dramatized by showing the conflict between what is ordinarily seen, ordinarily understood, and what is experienced as real. Cracking the shell of the world; or finding that teh shell is cracking under you. The unrealizable ideal is to write as if the earth opened and spoke. I think that if the earth did speak she would espouse no one set of values, affectations, meanings, that everything embraced would also somehow be annihilated and denied.
this is from Frank Bidart’s stupendous book In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (more precisely, from an appended interview with Bidart) Bishop has praised Bidart’s first volume, and almost every poem in this book is very good, some are really great. One of the very best living poets.