Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016

Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016

by Frank Bidart

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Overview

WINNER OF THE 2018 PULITZER PRIZE IN POETRY

WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY

The collected works of one of contemporary poetry’s most original voices

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 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 appetites of our experience.

Half-light encompasses all of Bidart’s previous books, and also includes a new collection, Thirst, in which the poet austerely surveys his life, laying it plain for us before venturing into something new and unknown. Here Bidart finds himself a “Creature coterminous with thirst,” still longing, still searching in himself, one of the “queers of the universe.”

Visionary and revelatory, intimate and unguarded, Bidart’s Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2017 are a radical confrontation with human nature, a conflict eternally renewed and reframed, restless line by restless line.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374537692
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 333,367
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Frank Bidart is the author of Metaphysical Dog (FSG, 2013), 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 has won many prizes, including the Wallace Stevens Award, the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

IN THE WESTERN NIGHT

(1990)

To the Dead

What I hope (when I hope) is that we'll see each other again, —
There is a NIGHT within the NIGHT, —

... for, like the detectives (the Ritz Brothers)
once we'd been battered by the gorilla

we searched the walls, the intricately carved impenetrable paneling

for a button, lever, latch

that unlocks a secret door that reveals at last the secret chambers,

CORRIDORS within WALLS,

(the disenthralling, necessary, dreamed structure beneath the structure we see,)

that is the HOUSE within the HOUSE ...

There is a NIGHT within the NIGHT, —

... there were (for example) months when I seemed only to displease, frustrate,

disappoint you —; then, something triggered

a drunk lasting for days, and as you slowly and shakily sobered up,

sick, throbbing with remorse and self-loathing,

insight like ashes: clung to; useless; hated ...

This was the viewing of the power of the waters

while the waters were asleep: —
not fit (you thought) for the light of day ...

There is a NIGHT within the NIGHT, —

... for, there at times at night, still we inhabit the secret place together ...

Is this wisdom, or self-pity? —

The love I've known is the love of two people staring

not at each other, but in the same direction.

Dark Night

(JOHN OF THE CROSS)

In a dark night, when the light
by the stair case that was secret, hidden,
in that sweet night, secret, seen by
night was the guide
night was the guide
As he lay sleeping on my sleepless
winds from the circling parapet circling
In a dark night (there where I
In the Western Night

1. The Irreparable

First, I was there where unheard harmonies create the harmonies

we hear —

then I was a dog, sniffing your crotch.

I asked you why you were here; your answer was your beauty.

I said I was in need. You said that the dead

rule and confuse our steps —

that if I helped you cut your skin deeply enough

that, at least, was IRREPARABLE ...

This afternoon, the clouds were moving so swiftly —

massed above the towers, rushing.

2. In My Desk

Two cigarette butts —
the first time you visited my apartment.
I found them, they were still there —

picking one up, I put my lips where yours had been ...

• * *

Our not-love is like a man running down a mountain, who, if he dares to try to stop,

falls over —
because we had hands.

• * *

I put the two cigarette butts in an envelope, carefully

taping shut the edges.
didn't stop

the stale smell of tobacco ...
3. Two Men

The man who does not know himself, who does not know his affections that his actions

speak but that he does not acknowledge,

  who will SAY ANYTHING

and lie when he does not know that he is lying because what he needs to believe is true

must indeed be true,

THIS MAN IS STONE ... NOT BREAD.

STONE. NOT CAKE. NOT CHEESE. NOT BREAD ...

The man who tries to feed his hunger by gnawing stone

  is a FOOL; his hunger is

fed in ways that he knows cannot satisfy it.

4. Epilogue: A Stanza from Horace

At night in dreams I hold you
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA; 1983.

Poem in the Stanza of the "Rubaiyat"

1. Spirit

The present and the future are the past now that her body cannot wake, nor, lost
2. Reading the "Rubaiyat"

Because she loved it even as a girl,
3. Christmas Eve in Harvard Square
In the Ruins

1. Man is a MORAL animal.

2. You can get human beings to do anything, — IF you convince them it is moral.

3. You can convince human beings anything is moral.

• * *

Oh Night, —

  ... THE SUN IS DEAD.

  What we dream moves

across our sky by

day, is a CORPSE, —

that sun's day is not the real day —;
FOR THE SUN IS DEAD ...

  Now when I learned this,

I knew the injunction placed upon me.
  RETURN THE DEAD TO LIFE.

Guilty of Dust

up or down from the infinite CENTER BRIMMING at the winking rim of time

the voice in my head said

LOVE IS THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND WHAT YOU LOVE

WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE

• * *

then I saw the parade of my loves

those PERFORMERS comics actors singers

forgetful of my very self so often I desired to die to myself to live in them

then my PARENTS my FRIENDS the drained SPECTRES once filled with my baffled infatuations

love and guilt and fury and sweetness for whom

nail spirit yearning to the earth

• * *

then the voice in my head said

WHETHER YOU LOVE WHAT YOU LOVE OR LIVE IN DIVIDED CEASELESS REVOLT AGAINST IT WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE
THE SACRIFICE
... the speculative Good Friday in place of the historic Good Friday. Good Friday must be speculatively re-established in the whole truth and harshness of its Godforsakenness.

— HEGEL

The War of Vaslav Nijinsky

Still gripped by the illusion of an horizon;
— the Nineteenth Century's guilt, World War One,

was danced

by Nijinsky on January 19, 1919.

• * *

... I am now reading Ecce Homo. Nietzsche is angry with me —;

he hates "the Crucified One."

But he did not live through War —;
with blood.

Someone must expiate the blood.

• * *

No. Let what is past be forgotten. Let even the blood

be forgotten —; there can be no "expiation."

Expiation is not necessary.

Suffering has made me what I am, —

I must not regret; or judge; or struggle to escape it

in the indifference of (the ruthless ecstasy of)

  CHANGE; "my endless RENEWAL"; BECOMING.

— That is Nietzsche.

He wants to say "Yes" to life.

I am not Nietzsche. I am the bride of Christ.

*
He was planning a new and original ballet. It was to be a picture of sex life, with the scene laid in a maison tolérée. The chief character was to be the owner — once a beautiful cocotte, now aged and paralyzed as a result of her debauchery; but, though her body is awreck, her spirit is indomitable in the traffic of love. She deals with all the wares of love, selling girls to boys, youth to age, woman to woman, man to man.

When he danced it, he succeeded in transmitting the whole scale of sex life.

*
— Many times Diaghilev wanted me to make love to him

as if he were a woman —;

I did. I refuse to regret it.

  At first, I felt humiliated for him, —

he saw this. He got angry and said, "I enjoy it!"

Then, more calmly, he said,

"Vatza, we must not regret what we feel."

— I REGRETTED

  what I FELT ... Not

making love, but that since the beginning I wanted to leave him ...

  That I stayed

out of "GRATITUDE," —

  and FEAR OF LIFE,

  and AMBITION ...

That in my soul,
Now my wife wants to have a second child. I am frightened;

the things a human being must learn, —
must learn he FEELS, —

frighten me! I know people's faults

because in my soul,

  I HAVE COMMITTED THEM.

The man who chops wood for us was speaking, this morning, in the kitchen,

to my wife. As I passed in the hallway I heard

whispering —; and LISTENED.

He said that as a child in his village at Sils Maria

he worked for the writer, Nietzsche —;
that just before the "famous man"
INSANE, he acted and looked

as I do now.

I can choose "life" for myself; —

but must I, again, again,
for any other creature?

*
The Durcals arrived in St. Moritz, and were invited to tea. Asked what he had been doing lately, Vaslav put on a worldly air, leaned back on the sofa and said,

"Well, I composed two ballets, I prepared a new program for the next Paris season, and lately — I have played a part. You see, I am an artist; I have no troupe now, so I miss the stage. I thought it would be rather an interesting experiment to see how well I could act, and so for six weeks I played the part of a lunatic; and the whole village, my family, and even the physicians apparently believed it. I have a male nurse to watch me, in the disguise of a masseur."

Romola was overcome, torn between anger and relief. She was confirmed in her supposition that her fears had been groundless when the male nurse came, after ten days, to assure her from his long experience that her husband was completely sane.

*
— Let me explain to you what "guilt" is ...

When I joke with my wife, and say,
she jokes back, and says,
  a manufacturer ..."

She looks at me, and I look at her.

What is terrible

is that I am serious —; and she is serious ...

She is right, of course, —
to make her live differently, without servants,
do not have the right even to try to re-make her ...

But does she then have the right to make me live like this, JUDGED, surrounded by those who cannot understand or feel me, —

  like a manufacturer? ...

She is angry, as I am angry.

We both are right —; and both angry ...

Soon, she feels guilty, feels that she has failed me —;

  and I too

feel guilty ...

The GUILT comes from NOWHERE.

Neither of us had done wrong!

But I am a good actor — and reassure her that I love her; am indeed happy; and that nothing will change ...

I want to be a good husband.

Still, I am guilty.

  ... Why am I guilty?

My life is FALSE.

• * *

I know the psychology of lunatics;
But I am not insane.

My brother was insane. He died in a lunatic asylum.

The reason I know I am NOT insane is because, unlike my brother,

I feel guilt.

The insane do not feel guilt.

My brother was a dancer. He was older than I,
he went insane.

When the doctors questioned him, he showed astonishing courage, —

  he thought that everyone

in the company was paid

by the secret police, to gather evidence against our family ...

He displayed cunning, and stoic fortitude, under the questions.

Even when he thought he faced death,
When he was taken away,
  She cried

visiting him, —

but that didn't make him feel GUILTY ...

My wife thought because I wore a large cross on my neck in the village, —

and told her certain dishes served at our table were poisoned, —

I was insane.

But I knew that my actions frightened her —; and I suffered.

Nietzsche was insane. He knew we killed God.

  ... This is the end of the story:

though He was dead, God was clever and strong. God struck back, —

AND KILLED US.

If I act insane people will call me
  even the truth —;

the insane feel anxiety and horror,

but are RELEASED from GUILT ...

I only want to know things I've learned like this, —

these things I cannot NOT know.

*
His other ballet remained unfinished. It was his own life put into a choreographic poem: a youth seeking truth through life, first as a pupil, open to all artistic suggestions, to all the beauty that life and love can offer; then his love for the woman, his mate, who successfully carries him off.

He set it in the period of the High Renaissance. The youth is a painter; his Master one of the greatest artists of the period, part Genius and part Politician, just as Diaghilev seemed to him to be. This Master advances him, and defends his daring work from the attacks of colleagues, as long as he is a student; then he falls in love, and the Master bitterly rejects not only him but his work.

*
— Last night, once again, I nearly abandoned my autobiographical ballet ...

The plot has a good beginning and middle, —

THE PUZZLE

is the end ...

The nights I spend —

  reading and improving Nietzsche, analyzing and then abandoning

my life, working on the Great Questions

like WAR and GUILT and GOD and MADNESS, —

I rise from my books, my endless, fascinating researches, notations, projects,

dazzled.

  — Is this happiness? ...

I have invented a far more accurate and specific notation for dance;

it has taken me two months to write down the movement in my ten-minute

ballet, L'Après-midi d'un Faune ...

There is a MORAL here

about how LONG you must live with the consequences of a SHORT action, —

but I don't now feel
(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965–2016"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Frank Bidart.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
IN THE WESTERN NIGHT: POEMS 1965-90,
DESIRE (1997),
STAR DUST (2005),
WATCHING THE SPRING FESTIVAL (2008),
METAPHYSICAL DOG (2013),
THIRST (NEW POEMS, 2016),
Note on the Text,
Notes,
Interviews,
WITH MARK HALLIDAY,
WITH ADAM TRAVIS,
WITH SHARA LESSLEY,
Index of Titles,
Also by Frank Bidart,
A Note About the Author,
Copyright,

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