Presenter of the National Book Awards

2008 National Book Award Finalist,
Poetry

Frank Bidart

Watching the Spring Festival

Farrar, Straus & Giroux


Frank Bidart reading at the 2008 National Book Award Finalists Reading
from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Photo © Sigrid Estrada.

CITATION

Clear, passionate, vivid and unconventional, Frank Bidart’s Watching the Spring Festival meditates, with muscular intelligence and formal originality, on worldly powers and their limitations: the lethal politics of a Chinese emperor’s court; the distorted life of Marilyn Monroe; the ghosts of Civil War dead judging contemporary America; an aging dancer recreating her earlier role for the merciless film camera; urgent, unfulfillable love; the Shakespearean theatrical “O” surrounding the ambitions of art.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frank Bidart was born in Bakersfield, California, in 1939 and educated at the University of California at Riverside and at Harvard University, where he was a student and friend of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. His recent volumes include Star Dust (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), Music Like Dirt (2002), and Desire (1997), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic's Circle Award. He is also the co-editor of Robert Lowell's Collected Poems (2003). His honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation Writer's Award, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, and The Paris Review's first Bernard F. Conners Prize for "The War of Vaslav Nijinsky" in 1981. In 2007, he received the Bollingen Prize in American Poetry. Bidart was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2003. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has taught at Wellesley College since 1972.

ABOUT THE BOOK(from the publisher)

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.

SUGGESTED LINKS

Frank Bidart's page on the Academy of American Poets website
http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/162

EXCERPT

If See No End In Is

What none knows is when, not if.
Now that your life nears its end
when you turn back what you see
is ruin. You think, It is a prison. No,
it is a vast resonating chamber in
which each thing you say or do is

new, but the same. What none knows is
how to change.
Each plateau you reach, if
single, limited, only itself, in-
cludes traces of all the others, so that in the end
limitation frees you, there is no
end, if you once see what is there to see.

You cannot see what is there to see—
not when she whose love you failed is
standing next to you. Then, as if refusing the know-
ledge that life unseparated from her is death, as if
again scorning your refusals, she turns away. The end
achieved by the unappeased is burial within.

Familiar spirit, within whose care I grew, within
whose disappointment I twist, may we at last see
by what necessity the double-bind is in the end
the figure for human life, why what we love is
precluded always by something else we love, as if
each no we speak is yes, each yes no.

The prospect is mixed but elsewhere the forecast is no
better. The eyrie where you perch in
exhaustion has food and is out of the wind, if
cold. You feel old, young, old, young: you scan the sea
for movement, though the promise of sex or food is
the prospect that bewildered you to this end.
Something in you believes that it is not the end.

When you wake, sixth grade will start. The finite you know
you fear is infinite: even at eleven, what you love is
what you should not love, which endless bullies in-
tuit unerringly. The future will be different: you cannot see
the end. What none knows is when, not if.

 

Excerpted from Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart. Copyright © 2008 by Frank Bidart. Published in April 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.