Throughout his career, Frank Bidart has produced poems marked by extreme states of consciousness. Many of these poems are built around characters drawn from myth, or newspapers, or movies, or literature, others from his own family history. But whatever the persona he inhabits, Bidart has been a poet of roiling intensity, a poet singularly unafraid of excess. And there, precisely, has been the great and singular achievement of Bidart’s work, for this is a poet who has found many different ways to contain excess without neutralizing it.

No poet of our time has so embodied conflict, creating living expressions of a consciousness moving through guilts and unmastered desires without resorting to easy resolutions. A model to younger poets who marvel at his ability to encompass both rage and tenderness, he has also been exemplary not only in tackling a wide range of lyric forms but in boldly investing in long narrative poems. Now in his mid-seventies, Bidart is clearly working at the height of his powers, and his recent volume Metaphysical Dog seems to many poets the best book he has ever written. Surely it is fair to say that he is an absolutely essential poet on the current American scene and that the legacy of his original, consistently powerful work will be felt in American letters for generations to come.

Frank Bidart is the winner of the 2014 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. The award is given to a poet whose distinguished and growing body of work to date represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature.

Ellen West \ Two Poems From Desire \ Two Poems from Metaphysical Dog



Advice to the Players

There is something missing in our definition, vision, of a human
being: the need to make.

We are creatures who need to make.

Because existence is willy-nilly thrust into our hands, our fate is to
make something— if nothing else, the shape cut by the arc of our

My parents saw corrosively the arc of their lives.

Making is the mirror in which we see ourselves.

But being is making: not only large things, a family, a book, a busi-
ness: but the shape we give this afternoon, a conversation between
two friends, a meal.

Or mis-shape.

Without clarity about what we make, and the choices that under-
lie it, the need to make is a curse, a misfortune.

The culture in which we live honors specific kinds of making (shap-
ing or mis-shaping a business, a family) but does not understand
how central making itself is as manifestation and mirror of the self,
fundamental as eating or sleeping.

In the images with which our culture incessantly teaches us, the
cessation of labor is the beginning of pleasure; the goal of work is
to cease working, an endless paradise of unending diversion.

In the United States at the end of the twentieth century, the great-
est luxury is to live a life in which the work that one does to earn a
living, and what one has the appetite to make, coincide—by a kind
of grace are the same, one.

Without clarity, a curse, a misfortune.

My intuition about what is of course unprovable comes, I’m sure,
from observing, absorbing as a child the lives of my parents: the
dilemmas, contradictions, chaos as they lived out their own often
unacknowledged, barely examined desires to make.

They saw corrosively the shape cut by the arc of their lives.

My parents never made something commensurate to their will to
make, which I take to be, in varying degrees, the general human
condition—as it is my own.

Making is the mirror in which we see ourselves.

Without clarity, a curse, a misfortune.

Horrible the fate of the advice-giver in our culture: to repeat one-
self in a thousand contexts until death, or irrelevance.

I abjure advice-giver.

Go make you ready.


Stanzas Ending with the Same Two Words

At first I felt shame because I had entered
through the door marked 
Your Death.

Not a valuable word written
unsteeped in your death.

You are the ruin whose arm encircles the young woman
at the posthumous bar, before your death.

The grass is still hungry
above you, fed by your death.

Kill whatever killed your father, your life
turning to me again said before your death.

Hard to grow old still hungry.
you were still hungry at your death.


Phenomenology of the Prick

You say, Let’s get naked. It’s 1962; the world
is changing, or has changed, or is about to change;
we want to get naked. Seven or eight old friends

want to see certain bodies that for years we’ve
guessed at, imagined. For me, not
certain bodies: one. Yours. You know that.

We get naked. The room
is dark; shadows against the windows’
light night sky; then you approach your wife. You light

a cigarette, allowing me to see what is forbidden to see.
You make sure I see it hard.
You make sure I see it hard

only once. A year earlier, through the high partition between cafeteria
booths, invisible I hear you say you can get Frank’s
car keys tonight. Frank, you laugh, will do anything I want.

You seemed satisfied. This night, as they say, 
completed something. After five years of my
obsession with you, without seeming to will it you

managed to let me see it hard. Were you
giving me a gift. Did you want fixed in my brain
what I will not ever possess. Were you giving me

a gift that cannot be possessed. You make sure
I see how hard
your wife makes it. You light a cigarette.


Excerpted from Star Dust: Poems by Frank Bidart. Farar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2005 by Frank Bidart. All rights reserved.

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