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Poetry Friday: "Half-Light" by Pulitzer-winning poet Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart and Garth Greenwell will give an online reading at Monday's NYS Summer Writers Institute

“Once I finally get the typed page to the point where it does seem ‘right’—where it does seem to reproduce the voice I hear—something very odd happens: the ‘being’ of the poem suddenly becomes the poem on paper, and no longer the ‘voice’ in my head. The poem on paper suddenly seems a truer embodiment of the poem’s voice than what I still hear in my head. I’ve learned to trust this when it happens—at that point, the entire process is finished.”

-- Frank Bidart, In the Western Night: Collected Poems, 1965-1990

Frank Bidart, will be joined by novelist Garth Greenwell for a NYS Summer Writers Institute online reading at 7 p.m. Monday, July 18.

The reading is free and online via Zoom. Reservations are not required.

In "The Frank Bidart Poem That Sums Up How Artists Innovate," (The Atlantic, Jan. 16, 2020) Garth Greenwell discusses how Bidart has influenced his writing:

"To read him is to experience someone writing utterly without defense, with a kind of lacerating honesty. There is one line in particular, from Bidart’s prose poem “Borges and I,” that for years has been a kind of motto for me: 'We fill preexisting forms and when we fill them, we change them and are changed.' It’s a refrain that’s helped me develop my sense of what artistic innovation is, and what it means to innovate in a meaningful and exciting way."

Greenwell interviewed Bidart for a story published in the Summer 2019 edition of The Paris Review

The poem below is taken from “Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2017,” which was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry. In its review, Publishers Weekly wrote:

"Relentless and ever willing to face his demons, no matter how terrifying, in the interest of making great art, Bidart is, to my ear, one of the very few major living poets who never wavers, never repeats himself (though he has always orbited the same concerns), and extends his questing and questioning through each new work. This collected poems is an almost overwhelming bounty, a permanent book."


November 3, 2014

That crazy drunken night I maneuvered you out into a field outside of

Coachella—I’d never seen a sky so full of stars, as if the dirt of our lives

still were sprinkled with glistening white shells from the ancient seabed

beneath us that receded long ago. Parallel. We lay in parallel furrows.

—That suffocated, fearful look on your face.

Jim, yesterday I heard your wife on the phone tell me you died almost nine months ago.

Jim, now we cannot ever. Bitter that we cannot ever have

the conversation that in nature and alive we never had. Now not ever.

We have not spoken in years. I thought perhaps at ninety or a hundred, two

broken-down old men, we wouldn’t give a damn, and find speech.

When I tell you that all the years we were undergraduates I was madly in love with you

you say you knew. I say I knew you

knew. You say There was no place in nature we could meet.

You say this as if you need me to admit something. No place

in nature, given our natures. Or is this warning? I say what is happening now is

happening only because one of us is

dead. You laugh and say, Or both of us!

Our words will be weirdly jolly.

That light I now envy exists only on this page.

First published Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2017

About Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry for Metaphysical Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). His other collections include Watching the Spring Festival (FSG, 2008), Star Dust (FSG, 2005), Desire (FSG, 1997), and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (FSG, 1990).

He teaches at Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Also next week

July 19: Joyce Carol Oates (Fiction) & Adam Braver (Fiction)

July 20: Student Reading (Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction)

July 21: Jamaica Kincaid (Fiction) & Henri Cole (Poetry)

From Frank Bidart's 2008 visit at the NYS Writers Institute


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