Gathered together, the poems of Frank Bidart perform one of the most remarkable transmutations of the body into language in contemporary literature. His pages represent the human voice in all its extreme registers, whether it’s that of the child murderer Herbert White, the obsessive anorexic Ellen West, the tormented genius Vaslav Nijinsky, or the poet’s own. And in that embodiment is a transgressive empathy, one that recognizes our wild appetites, the monsters, the misfits, the misunderstood among us, and inside of us. Few writers have so willingly ventured to the dark places of the human psyche, and allowed themselves to be stripped bare on the page with such candor and vulnerability. Over the past half-century, Bidart has done nothing less than invent a poetics commensurate with the chaos and hunger of our experience.
Frank Bidart’s Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 is an investigation of selfhood that spans five decades of work and several hundred years of concerns. There are multitudes here: personal selves, invented characters, and historical figures worn like overcoats—sometimes disguising, sometimes revealing, but always presented, inhabited, as query, as revelation. With mask and mirror, in persona or as confession, these poems present mind and body simultaneously ruthless and vulnerable, as they interrogate the arc of a life, of all lives.