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Watching the Spring Festival: Poems

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

This is Frank Bidarts 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 times finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidarts 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 Chinas 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 Bidarts 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.
Frank Bidart's most recent full-length collections of poetry are Star Dust, Desire, and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965–90. He has won many prizes, including the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry. He teaches at Wellesley College.
A Pulitzer Prize Finalist

A National Book Award Finalist

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of the Year

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

This is Frank Bidart's first book of lyrics—his first book not dominated by long poems. Speed, song, intimacy, and directness replace narrative elaboration. Less embattled than his earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time's finalities and triumph, 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. We see this against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamor 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, the ballet 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 face of death and loss, for the illuminations of art.

“Full of rage even when most melancholy or sweet, [Bidarts] voice leaps off the page toward his subjects, and toward the reader . . . Grand poetic ambition, at its best, can make us feel that that which challenges the glory-seeking poet also challenges the ordinary life. In lucid moments of this wonderful book, Bidart accomplishes this feat.”—Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune
“These poems offer no compromise, no synthesis, for the sentiments that collide in them: they are the products of long thought and great craft, but only in the sense in which a bonfire might be called the product of logs . . . No poet so deliberate, so thoughtful, has seemed at the same time so chthonically driven, so compelled to make what he makes and nothing else . . . If we want profundity, harsh originality, unequalled compression, deft syntax and difficult wisdom, we should hold dear what Bidart can now give.”—Stephen Burt, London Review of Books

“Full of rage even when most melancholy or sweet, [Bidarts] voice leaps off the page toward his subjects, and toward the reader . . . Grand poetic ambition, at its best, can make us feel that that which challenges the glory-seeking poet also challenges the ordinary life. In lucid moments of this wonderful book, Bidart accomplishes this feat.”—Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune

“For this poet the storytelling function of narrative often contains the grievous and exalted emotional states more traditionally associated with dramatic catharsis . . . Bidart has succeeded at returning us to belief not in what we will to be the case, but rather in those forces to which our will is inevitably suborned, and by which our will, inevitable and impossible, is defined. That is a life, and an artistry, magnificently well spent.”—Raymond McDaniel, Boston Review

"Watching the Spring Festival—Frank Bidart's seventh major collection—continues in a more personal vein than in his earlier dramatic monologues his concern with dreams and desire and his dialogue with history, including popular culture . . . Once more, Bidart's ability with his craft is evident."—Lisa M. Steinman, Michigan Quarterly Review

"With his latest volume, Watching the Spring Festival, Bidart has perhaps written his own best introduction. The jacket tells us 'this is Frank Bidart's first book of lyrics' because it is 'his first book not dominated by long poems' . . . The brief and haunting lyric 'Valetine' is apparently autobiographical, though it too finds its ground in classic Americana . . . With the lyrics of Watching the Spring Festival, he succeeds in focusing the broad beam of his more expansive works into many brilliant points of light. Whether further books will bring a return to those longer poems (specifically another 'Hour of the Night,' as many of his devoted readers hope) remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are graced with a book of poems as strange and lovely as anything currently being written. Bidart is an American original and Watching the Spring Festival is a permanent contribution to our literature."—Justin Sider, Colorado Review

“Relentless in evoking ‘the great / grounding events from his own life precisely enough that they become a kind of mirror, Bidart is supreme among contemporary poets in revealing the lineaments of the twisting, yearning soul.”American Poet

"Recently honored with the 2007 Bollingen Prize, Frank Bidart responds not with a book defined by the longer narratives for which he is best known, but with a collection of masterful, carefully modulated lyrics, glimpses of the millennium's turn and dispatches from an ancient world. Bidart's control of tone is a defining virtue . . . From afar, Bidart the poet watches the spring festival of human life, sympathetically but with sober awareness of love's transactional, and temporary, nature. In these new poems—austere, intelligent, intense—Bidart's sharp eye remains undimmed, his ear still flawless."—Ned Balbo, The Antioch Review

"[Bidart's] excellent new book, Watching the Spring Festival, reflects a man feeling his age, the slip of time, and the tug of oblivion. Its a slim volume, not even 60 pages long, but it brims with hard angles, tightly packed lines, and layered meanings. Its a lyrical, tender, and melancholic ode to the void that finds a way of being spiritual without condescending to dogma. It attempts to confront the paradox of being while trying to inscribe something lasting, and also expressing unblinkingly mans cosmic dilemma—that maybe, just maybe, there is no exit. 'Song of the Mortar and Pestle,' for instance, might be the volumes most brutal, brief, and elegiac illustration of this. In it, Bidart balances the suffering of existence against a deeper longing for relief — from sin, from consciousness, from the nagging doubt that perhaps we are not more than the sum of our parts . . . Bidart is steely-eyed and tough in his musings, able to evoke gritty, dramatic scenes with stoic calm."—John Stoehr, Charleston City Paper

"Frank Bidart adores the savage Catullan paradox. In his 1983 collection, The Sacrifice, he included a reframing of 'Odi et amo' that in 13 words told us all we need to know about the violence of appetite: 'I hate and love. Ignorant fish, who even/wants the fly while writhing.' In Watching the Spring Festival, his seventh and most recent book, Cantabrigian Bidart—now a fully emerged, Bollingen Prize-winning American poet—offers a riposte of sorts. 'Catullus: Id Faciam in its entirety reads: 'What I hate I love. Ask the crucified hand that holds/the nail that now is driven into itself, why.' This poem removes pleasure from the equation, but then it opens the deep question of the redemption of suffering. It also gets us close to the ongoing dynamic of the poets vision: the clarification and underscoring of ambivalence. If human opposites, those binary formulations we are said to live by, have a point of contact, that is where Bidart applies his probe most forcefully. In the powerful long works that have made his reputation—'Ellen West,' 'The War of Vaslav Nijinsky,' and 'The First Hour of the Night'—madness and vision, desire and self-destruction, and sin and its expiation are of imagination all compact. And they are no less present in the mostly shorter poems that make up Watching the Spring Festival . . . That said, there are a number of poems that unfold over several pages, and one, 'Ulanova at Forty-Six at Last Dances Before a Camera Giselle,' that starts to muscle toward the familiar expansiveness. But even this work has a single focus. The poet locates his awakening to the true potency of art in a long-ago screening—he was in college—of the legendary dancer. Like the first of the Catullan poems, its a work about the wages of yearning, and it proposes that, at least for the speaker, the gratification trumps the pain. Not in terms of the sensuous reward—getting the worm—but in the attainment of artistic expression. Bidart identifies 'Ulanova' as the 'poem Ive never been able to write,' adding that its about 'burning an image into the soul of an eighteen-year-old (me) of the severity and ferocity at the root of classic art, addicted to mimesis.' Hes attesting not just to the power of art to reshape a life, to turn it from appreciation toward an idea of making, but also to susceptibility. This staging of an encounter with another kind of art, a different form of passion, attunes us to Bidarts degree of alertness, and in his passing along of the mimetic impulse we read with greater awareness of the importance of what is being offered."—Sven Birkets, The Phoenix (Boston)

"To those accustomed to Bidart's distances—the pages and pages of staggered-line assaults on the big questions—these new poems feel short. But not fast. Like all of Bidart's poems, they make the line break almost a category of consciousness. Every enjambed line, every bit of white space, every pause is the product of a decision. Every ounce of the unnecessary has been lopped away with one of those razor-sharp Japanese fish knives, and you can feel the fresh face of language greet the air."—Jon Garelick, The Phoenix (Boston)

"Half of poetry is suspended silence . . . a white blank on the page. Frank Bidart cultivates that space as he collects the seeds of language and positions them. High tone and complex diction set the stage for fear, ghosts and tragedies. Bidart has been described as fastidious—the work is chiseled but admits a touch of humor and genuine piety . . . The poet strings communication lines between the living and dead. The casualties of Gettysburg file by accusing us of betrayal (and recalling Robert Lowell's 'Union Dead'). The title poem is based on Tu Fu's observations of an imperial fete in 753. Power is illustrated, exposed and recognized as dangerous. In a later poem, Bidart returns to the 'Festival' and accepts responsibility for 'the problems of making// art.' He even identifies one big problem: 'a great abundance / which is the source of fury.' His moral compass isn't lost in the bid for immortal verse. Finally, 'Collector' is a reverie in which the poet hoards and stores seeds (read words) to carry sustenance and design into the future."—Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Brooklyn Rail

"It would be unfair to say that Frank Bidart is purely a poet of intellect, though hes often cast that way. The truth is that hes a poet who needs a distance to feel from, and his poems are strategic movements to external vantage points . . . Bidart shows just how emotional a process thinking is. To think and to feel are artificial distinctions in Bidarts work—they always arrive together. Bidart is a poet of urgency. All of his utterances have a directness and make a demand on us. He creates a kind of vortex out of syntax, but unlike most of the poets we associate with disorientation, he always reorients us by the end of the sentence . . . One has the sense that hes trying to get at something very important, and that he has to work in a kind of contortionism in order to get it right. In this particular book, Bidart has dispensed with the frequent capitalizations of words for emphasis—a move that has always amazed and dazzled me—and mostly uses italics to signal a switch in voices. Bidart often feels to me like hes completely outside the rules. But it would be a mistake to think that hes become a rule abiding citizen of the poetry world. This collection alternates between mediations and narratives, though with more weight directed towards the narrative. The book opens with a meditation on Marilyn Monroes destructive seductiveness, a theme picked up in a later narrative poem ('Seduction') about a failed seduction. Bidart is as stunning in his narrative details as he is in his meditative pronouncements . . . The technique that is most visible in this collection, as has long been Bidarts métier, is collage—the blending of voices and themes and subjects. He has a talent for guiding the reader so deep into his labyrinth of associations that one forgets how it is the conclusion arrived . . . The masterful poem that anchors the book, 'Ulanova At Forty-Six At Last Dances Before a Camera Giselle,' describes the transformative experience of watching the film named in the title. The poem blends together the dance, the film, the experience of watching the film, the story of Ulanova, and a critical text about her. The reason I think it works so well is that he cares so deeply about every single aspect of the poem . . . Bidart is forever breaking the rules (show dont tell), but always making us feel the urgency that led him to break each of the rules. In describing the process of writing this poem, hes not just giving us a gloss on how to read or what the poem means, hes actually revealing the urgency of the work. Hes telling us how hard it was to get this right, to get to the poem we now read. Bidarts recounting of Giselle is devastating. He invokes the tragic to explain Giselles refusal to let Myrtha punish the duke with the very death that he brought to her . . . Perhaps more than the collage, the vortex or the image of the storm is useful to understand his work. Bidart positions the reader at the eye of the storm. His reflective calm lets us watch the elements rage around us from a position of tenuous safety. Its hard to describe that which mesmerizes the reader (me), and yet Bidart has managed to yet again burn his images into my soul."—Jason Schneiderman, coldfront magazine

"Though this book largely eschews the idiosyncratic punctuation and typography of Bidart's earlier work, his mastery of enjambment here is precision-tooled . . . Bidart's snaky syntax forces the mind to double back and revise, mirroring and impelling the action of thought. Formally, it resembles nothing so much as the examples Noam Chomsky comes up with to illustrate the mind's ability to make sense of complex referential relations: 'The horse races past the barn fell.' Like Chomsky, Bidart revels in the creative and literally infinite potentialities of language use . . . No less than its predecessors, Watching the Spring Festival forces and irritates us into thought. Bidart is one of those rare artists, Like Sonic Youth and John Ashbery, whose every new work is worth buying the day it appears on the shelves."—Michael Robbins, The Poetry Foundation

"Bidarts first collection, not dominated by one or more long narratives, shows him concerned, hardly for the first time, with the resonance of the old saw ars longa, vita brevis. The title poem and its cognate, 'Tu Fu Watches the Spring Festival across Serpentine Lake,' participate in an artistic life begun in 753 with an extravagant imperial court celebration that one of Chinas greatest poets witnessed—an imaginative life that links, across the centuries, human death and persistent artistry, unfortunately with the impotent fury that beautiful longevity arouses. The inability to clearly and logically connect arts endurance and lifes transience doesnt lessen the feelings, the fury, felt because of the connection. Catullus said something similar about life and love in his famous couplet beginning, 'Odi et amo' ('I hate and I love'), Bidarts version of which appears between the festival poems. A different reaction to the same conundrum of life and art—awe, not rage—is also conveyed, unforgettably by the volumes longest piece, 'Ulanova at Forty-Six at Last Dances before a Camera Giselle.' Bidart, though 'difficult,' is nonpareil."—Ray Olson, Booklist

"Long admired for his lengthy dramatic monologs, Bidart here channels his poetic energies into relatively compressed lyrical forms, honing what could have been expansive meditations on mortality, illusion, transformation, and rebirth down to thunderbolts of image and aphorism. Nearing 70, Bidart writes as if under a deadline, emphasizing essence over exposition and cutting straight to the poem's metaphysical core. This work exudes an almost visceral poignancy—a bitter half-acceptance of a world that distracts us from recognizing the brevity of our lives with fleeting manifestations of beauty. Bidart sometimes speaks through the imagined lives of others (Marilyn Monroe's mother, Tu Fu), but his masks have grown transparent, and when he writes, 'the fewer the gestures that can, in the future,/ be, the sweeter those left to you to make,' we know who's really doing the talking."—Fred Muratori, Library Journal

"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.'"—Publisher's Weekly, (starred review)

Table of Contents

Marilyn Monroe

Tu Fu Watches the Spring Festival across Serpentine Lake

The Old Man at the Wheel

Like Lightning across an Open Field

You Cannot Rest

Poem Ending with Three Lines from “Home on the Range”

An American in Hollywood

Seduction

Catullus: Id Faciam

Song of the Mortar and Pestle

Valentine

With Each Fresh Death the Soul Rediscovers Woe

Sanjaya At

Winter Spring Summer Fall

Ulanova at Forty-Six at Last Dances before a Camera Giselle

Under Julian, C362 A.D.

Candidate

To the Republic

Gods Catastrophe in Our Time

Little O

Watching the Spring Festival

Hymn

If See No End In Is

Song

Collector

Notes

Synopsis:

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. Frank Bidart's most recent full-length collections of poetry are Star Dust, Desire, and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90. He has won many prizes, including the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry. He teaches at Wellesley College. A Pulitzer Prize Finalist

A National Book Award Finalist

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of the Year A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

This is Frank Bidart's first book of lyrics--his first book not dominated by long poems. Speed, song, intimacy, and directness replace narrative elaboration. Less embattled than his earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time's finalities and triumph, 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. We see this against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamor 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, the ballet 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 face of death and loss, for the illuminations of art. Full of rage even when most melancholy or sweet, Bidart's] voice leaps off the page toward his subjects, and toward the reader . . . Grand poetic ambition, at its best, can make us feel that that which challenges the glory-seeking poet also challenges the ordinary life. In lucid moments of this wonderful book, Bidart accomplishes this feat.--Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune These poems offer no compromise, no synthesis, for the sentiments that collide in them: they are the products of long thought and great craft, but only in the sense in which a bonfire might be called the product of logs . . . No poet so deliberate, so thoughtful, has seemed at the same time so chthonically driven, so compelled to make what he makes and nothing else . . . If we want profundity, harsh originality, unequalled compression, deft syntax and difficult wisdom, we should hold dear what Bidart can now give.--Stephen Burt, London Review of Books

Full of rage even when most melancholy or sweet, Bidart's] voice leaps off the page toward his subjects, and toward the reader . . . Grand poetic ambition, at its best, can make us feel that that which challenges the glory-seeking poet also challenges the ordinary life. In lucid moments of this wonderful book, Bidart accomplishes this feat.--Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune

For this poet the storytelling function of narrative often contains the grievous and exalted emotional states more traditionally associated with dramatic catharsis . . . Bidart has succeeded at returning us to belief not in what we will to be the case, but rather in those forces to which our will is inevitably suborned, and by which our will, inevitable and impossible, is defined. That is a life, and an artistry, magnificently well spent.--Raymond McDaniel, Boston Review

Watching the Spring Festival--Frank Bidart's seventh major collection--continues in a more personal vein than in his earlier dramatic monologues his concern with dreams and desire and his dialogue with history, including popular culture . . . Once more, Bidart's ability with his craft is evident.--Lisa M. Steinman, Michigan Quarterly Review

With his latest volume, Watching the Spring Festival, Bidart has perhaps written his own best introduction. The jacket tells us 'this is Frank Bidart's first book of lyrics' because it is 'his first book not dominated by long poems' . . . The brief and haunting lyric 'Valetine' is apparently autobiographical, though it too finds its ground in classic Americana . . . With the lyrics of Watching the Spring Festival, he succeeds in focusing the broad beam of his more expansive works into many brilliant points of light. Whether further books will bring a return to those longer poems (specifically another 'Hour of the Night, ' as many of his devoted readers hope) remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are graced with a book of poems as strange and lovely as anything currently being written. Bidart is an American original and Watching the Spring Festival is a permanent contribution to our literature.--Justin Sider, Colorado Review

Relentless in evoking 'the great / grounding events' from h

Synopsis:

This is Frank Bidarts 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 times finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidarts 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 Chinas 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 Bidarts 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.

About the Author

Frank Bidarts most recent full-length collections of poetry are Star Dust (FSG, 2005), Desire (FSG, 1997), and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (FSG, 1990). He has won many prizes, including the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780374531720
Author:
Bidart, Frank
Publisher:
Farrar Straus Giroux
Subject:
American - General
Subject:
General Poetry
Subject:
Poetry-A to Z
Subject:
Single Author / American
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20090331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
72
Dimensions:
8.26 x 5.51 x 0.22 in

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Product details 72 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374531720 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , 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. Frank Bidart's most recent full-length collections of poetry are Star Dust, Desire, and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90. He has won many prizes, including the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry. He teaches at Wellesley College. A Pulitzer Prize Finalist

A National Book Award Finalist

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of the Year A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

This is Frank Bidart's first book of lyrics--his first book not dominated by long poems. Speed, song, intimacy, and directness replace narrative elaboration. Less embattled than his earlier work, less actively violent, these new poems have, by conceding time's finalities and triumph, 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. We see this against a broad landscape. The book opens with Marilyn Monroe, followed by the glamor 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, the ballet 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 face of death and loss, for the illuminations of art. Full of rage even when most melancholy or sweet, Bidart's] voice leaps off the page toward his subjects, and toward the reader . . . Grand poetic ambition, at its best, can make us feel that that which challenges the glory-seeking poet also challenges the ordinary life. In lucid moments of this wonderful book, Bidart accomplishes this feat.--Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune These poems offer no compromise, no synthesis, for the sentiments that collide in them: they are the products of long thought and great craft, but only in the sense in which a bonfire might be called the product of logs . . . No poet so deliberate, so thoughtful, has seemed at the same time so chthonically driven, so compelled to make what he makes and nothing else . . . If we want profundity, harsh originality, unequalled compression, deft syntax and difficult wisdom, we should hold dear what Bidart can now give.--Stephen Burt, London Review of Books

Full of rage even when most melancholy or sweet, Bidart's] voice leaps off the page toward his subjects, and toward the reader . . . Grand poetic ambition, at its best, can make us feel that that which challenges the glory-seeking poet also challenges the ordinary life. In lucid moments of this wonderful book, Bidart accomplishes this feat.--Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune

For this poet the storytelling function of narrative often contains the grievous and exalted emotional states more traditionally associated with dramatic catharsis . . . Bidart has succeeded at returning us to belief not in what we will to be the case, but rather in those forces to which our will is inevitably suborned, and by which our will, inevitable and impossible, is defined. That is a life, and an artistry, magnificently well spent.--Raymond McDaniel, Boston Review

Watching the Spring Festival--Frank Bidart's seventh major collection--continues in a more personal vein than in his earlier dramatic monologues his concern with dreams and desire and his dialogue with history, including popular culture . . . Once more, Bidart's ability with his craft is evident.--Lisa M. Steinman, Michigan Quarterly Review

With his latest volume, Watching the Spring Festival, Bidart has perhaps written his own best introduction. The jacket tells us 'this is Frank Bidart's first book of lyrics' because it is 'his first book not dominated by long poems' . . . The brief and haunting lyric 'Valetine' is apparently autobiographical, though it too finds its ground in classic Americana . . . With the lyrics of Watching the Spring Festival, he succeeds in focusing the broad beam of his more expansive works into many brilliant points of light. Whether further books will bring a return to those longer poems (specifically another 'Hour of the Night, ' as many of his devoted readers hope) remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are graced with a book of poems as strange and lovely as anything currently being written. Bidart is an American original and Watching the Spring Festival is a permanent contribution to our literature.--Justin Sider, Colorado Review

Relentless in evoking 'the great / grounding events' from h

"Synopsis" by ,
This is Frank Bidarts 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 times finalities and triumphs, acquired a dark radiance unlike anything seen before in Bidarts 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 Chinas 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 Bidarts 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.
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