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.
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.