2008 National Book Award Finalist Poetry
Interview with Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart

Watching the Spring Festival

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Interview conducted by Craig Morgan Teicher.

Photo © Sigrid Estrada.

Craig Morgan Teicher: This is your third book to be nominated for the National Book Awards. How do you feel?

Frank Bidart: One has to be as stoic as possible about these things. I am grateful for the attention it gives the book—I really am. One just has to try very hard not to get one’s ego involved in it. I am genuinely honored.

CMT: Would it be an important landmark in your career to win?

FB: Of course one wants to win, but I think it’s also very important not to get one’s own sense of one’s work mixed up with how a particular book is received–that would be a real trap. I think everyone wants to be respected by one’s peers, and I certainly want to feel that there is an audience that thinks what I do is worth taking seriously. There’s a danger in corresponding in too perfect a fashion or in too narrow a fashion to the taste of one’s time. One has to try to at least conceive a work that is not bound by that. So I really like this very much, though at the same time I guess I’m afraid of the danger of making such things a measure of what one is doing as a writer. I’ve been lucky—I feel that the world has been very good to me, and I am incredibly lucky to have a great editor [in Jonathan Galassi] who’s also the publisher who really likes my work. It’s also good list of nominees, and I’m very, very honored to be on that list. That’s really part of my pleasure.

CMT: Watching the Spring Festival is your first book of mostly shorter poems. Now that the book is done and published, are you still writing shorter things, or are you working on longer poems again?

FB: I’ve written a couple of short poems since the book, but I very much feel that the project of the book is over, that some energy or vein was exhausted. I feel I’ve got to do it all over again. I think it’ll be a long time before my next book. I don’t think it’ll be a book that will be written quickly. The last book was written very quickly. Ideally I hope there’s going to be another “Hour of the Night” in it [The “Hours of the Night” poems are a series of extended poems that have appeared in three of Bidart’s book so far] . I haven’t given that larger project up, but I needed to be in an antechamber for a while. It’s just beginning to assume any kind of shape.

CMT: You think of the short poems as existing in an antechamber?

FB: They’re the most intimate poems I’ve written. I learned things about how to shape a short poem in the process of writing this book that I needed to learn. So in some ways, I’m thinking it’s gone beyond what I’ve done before. On the other hand, it does not include a kind of large overview poem. In a way what I would like to do is to join some of the feeling for lyric texture in these more recent poems to the larger structure. But I don’t know if I can do that.

CMT: Are you writing all the time?

FB: Yes, but I keep getting stuck. I’ve been carrying around a poem now for about nine months that has been driving me completely nuts. Then I wrote one very short poem that happened very quickly, in a couple of days. This other poem, I keep scribbling, I keep revising, but I keep not finishing.

Craig Morgan Teicher is a poet, critic, and freelance writer. His first book of poems, Brenda Is In The Room And Other Poems, was chosen by Paul Hoover as winner of the 2007 Colorado Prize for Poetry and was published by the Center for Literary Publishing. His collection of short stories and fables, called Cradle Book, will be published in spring 2010 by BOA Editions Ltd.