Next to, or often mixed with, the dramatic voices of troubled and troubling characters are moments that seem autobiographical. The statement about the need to "make something" is followed by "My parents saw corrosively the arc of their lives." At the end of this sequence he writes, "Until my mother died she struggled to make / a house that she did not loathe; paintings; poems; me." He writes often about his parents and his upbringing in southern California. The scenes are sometimes brutal, sometimes oblique, always memorable. Bidart has written that one of the discoveries of modernist American poetry is the "psychological model of the search for meaning." This model is certainly central to his own work.
There seems to be something in this effort that reflects things learned from Bidart's friend and teacher Robert Lowell. Recently Bidart coedited (with former Ann Arborite David Gewanter) Lowell's Collected Poems, the most widely reviewed book of poetry of the last year. That Bidart worked slowly and carefully at the Lowell Collected for thirty years is an indication of the care he takes with all his tasks.
Frank Bidart reads from his work at the Michigan Union on Monday, March 15.
[Originally published in March, 2004.]