Frank Bidart
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Frank Bidart

Past Event: Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Frank Bidart grew up in Bakersfield, California and was educated at the University of California at Riverside. He knew from a young age he wanted to be an artist, but at first he devoted himself to being a film director. It wasn’t until he attended graduate school at Harvard University, where he became friends with Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, that he began to think of himself as a poet. As a graduate student, he was drawn to the works of modernist writers like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, but he found that in order to write his own poems he needed to turn his attention to his own life. “I realized that ‘subject matter’—confronting the dilemmas, issues, ‘things’ with which the world had confronted me—had to be at the center of my poems if they were to have any force.”

Many of Bidart’s poems take the form of confessions—revelations about emotional and psychic traumas. These poems are just as often about historical or fictional characters as about Bidart himself, but in either case, they are, in his words, “arguments with myself.” “My poems had to be about trying to figure out why the past was as it was, what patterns and powers kept me at its mercy . . . [They] had to express a drama of processes, my attempts to organize and order, and failures to organize and order.”

Bidart uses syntax and punctuation to capture the nuances of the speaker’s voice, and weaves quotations from literature, philosophy and history into his poems. “I never had a romance with writing verse,” said Bidart. “What caught me about writing poems was not the fascination of using meter and rhyme—I knew somehow, however gropingly and blindly, that there must be some way to get down the motions of the voice in my head, that somehow the way to do this was to write in lines. Lines, not only sentences or paragraphs.”

Frank Bidart is the author of five collections of poetry. Among other honors, he has received the Lila Acheson Wallace / Reader’s Digest Fund Writer’s Award, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, and the Lannan Literary Award. He teaches at Wellesley College.

Selected WorkDesire (1997)In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (1990)The Sacrifice (1983)The Book of the Body (1977)Golden State (1973)