Issue 53 |

rev. of In the Western Night, Collected Poems 1965-90 by Frank Bidart


Frank Bidart has business with substancelessness, whether in the wasting figure of Ellen West or in dreams which suffuse the old and new poems of
In the Western Night. The book's unusual structure -- Bidart begins with poems dated "1990," works retrospectively through books published 1983-1976, and ends with his most recent poems -- suggests the vertigo of staring at layers of time through a fault in the earth's crust, then leaping across. Bidart's prosody, in which italicized, uppercase words assert their substance against the zero of the page, is an extension of content: the struggle of spirit implicated in matter.

"WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE," Bidart writes in "Guilty of Dust." But how, exactly, does one locate this incarnate "you"? Personal identity is hopelessly twined with the impersonal "History of Styles" ("Ellen West"); or personality possesses a mythic, transcendent core, like the sacrificial virgin in
Sacre du Printemps who finds "that there is a self / WITHIN herself / that is not HERSELF" ("The War of Vaslav Nijinsky"). Bidart's vision -- almost Platonic -- of "the disenthralling, necessary, dreamed structure / beneath the structure we see" ("To the Dead"), argues that freedom and essence dwell beyond worldly existence, and at the same time compels readers of this handsome volume to examine the world's body fresh.