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Metaphysical Dog: Poems Hardcover – April 30, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Bidart (Watching the Spring Festival, 2008), winner of the Bollingen Prize for American Poetry, among many other awards, takes what is for him a radically personal approach in this candid and inquiring collection. A poet of refined distillation, Bidart writes with rare cogency and poignancy of “the war between the mind and the body,” ecstasy and obliteration, his mother’s death, and his coming out. In reflections on the mysteries of being, Bidart uses the words “crave,” “flesh,” “stone,” “soul,” “idea,” and “dream” in a beautifully plangent philosophical calculus of longing. A master of the ready counterpoint of the couplet, Bidart can be tart and bemusing, as in the title poem with its dark twist, as well as richly emotive in his yearning for metaphysical clarity. As he explains in his notes, poems are “curses, exorcism, prayer . . . the attempt to make someone or something live again.” His, he declares, is an “aesthetics of embodiment.” There is a quiet, stirring grandeur here as Bidart contemplates the spectrum of existence, life’s endless transformations, and our “hunger for the absolute.” --Donna Seaman

Review

The best book of poems published this year? Easy--it was Frank Bidart's Metaphysical Dog, Bidart's strongest book ever, and also his most accessible: for readers who are new to Bidart's work, this is the best place to start. (Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker)

Bidart's new book returns to the rough, terse and sometimes shocking phrasings that won him attention decades ago. He uses them, now, to look back, to ask how memory works, what poetry does, and what either of them can do for souls, and bodies, past the midpoint of a life . . . The forceful starkness in Bidart's usual style--almost no description, few overt euphonies, plenty of repetition--fits characters who try to test, or reject, or escape, the limits of the merely physical, describable world . . . To immerse oneself in Bidart's work is to enter a crowd of scary, unusual characters: artistic geniuses, violent misfits, stunted failures and dramatic self-accusers (including, in some guise, the poet himself). Yet it is also to discover credible claims about the lives that many of us choose . . . These poems do not lay out a path to happiness, but they do provide a theory of art . . . Bidart writes through passion, but also through subtraction, leaving out all but the statements that seem essential to the soul, the desire, the wisdom or the memory at hand. The results, however austere, can be revelations: his poems are doors best opened with cautious attention--behind them you might even see yourself. (Stephen Burt, The New York Times Book Review)

Poet Frank Bidart's Metaphysical Dog is a champion. (Vanity Fair)

No major poet of our time has been so unguarded as Bidart, so willing to travel to the dark places in the psyche, so recklessly earnest about his need to get to the bottom of things . . . Bidart's brave, virulent investment in resistance results in work of extraordinary power . . . [his] work is at once challenging and intimate. It courts excess and disorder with an unmistakable sense that it is possible for the poet to go wrong and thereby betray his vocation. There is in Bidart's work the surprise we crave in art that matters, but we would never think to say about it what Clement Greenberg said of experimental art: that it is 'all surprise without satisfaction.' (Robert Boyers, The Nation)

What is thrilling about reading Bidart's work, even more so as he pushes into his fifth decade of writing poems, is his repeated willingness to engage the agon of the self, the self in history both personal and public . . . Bidart is our most classical poet, because he knows that the only heroism possible consists in seeing and naming our fate. (April Bernard, New York Review of Books)

At seventy-three years old, Bidart has a light, mellifluous voice that could lend succor to the shell shocked. Exceedingly generous and gentle, he also wields a supercharged intelligence, a tentacled erudition that reaches deep into what Matthew Arnold dubbed 'the best that is known and thought in the world . . . Metaphysical Dog . . . [is] his most intimate testimonial of the poetic mind in reciprocity with the personal man. (William Giraldi, Poets & Writers)

Bidart has spent the better part of a lifetime finding the means to make generalities ring out--to embody the ways in which our lives get locked up in ideas, and ideas locked up in our lives. In poem after poem, he uses everything from prosody to the caps lock key to infuse otherwise static abstractions with extraordinary force, often by halting the forward motion of a phrase . . . Part of his genius over the years (this is his eighth collection, reaching back to 1973's Golden State, and he now claims a rightful place in the ranks of American masters) has been his ability to present the drama of that which cannot change. Having left behind the long poems that first made him famous, Bidart increasingly writes in knots--knots he doesn't seek to untie but instead pulls tighter and tighter as he goes . . . Bidart's tragic view of life is apparently untouched by our 21st-century sense that everything can be improved, and his assumption of suffering as the condition of life lends his poems an untimely authority--one that feels almost moral in its determined gaze . . . Bidart writes about his doubt with powerful conviction, and his poetry never discourages, for all its despair. Instead, these poems testify that art can alter life, not by changing its course but by rewarding an otherwise ineffectual desire to make life live up to the promise it's forever making then snatching away, like Lucy setting up Charlie Brown . . . Bidart frequently returns to stories he recounted in earlier books--the loss of religion, extreme family dysfunction, coming out--but in Metaphysical Dog they're more explicitly tied to his life as a writer, which adds a surprising layer of vulnerability, pulling those experiences out into a plainer light. Even as Bidart suggests the ways in which he needed to transform these events, he also lets them stand, for a moment, as the stories of one life. (Jonathan Farmer, Slate)

In this new book, terror and shame connected with the young body's flaws and differences--sexual and otherwise--ebb in the face of old age, a muted phase in which the body one loves best inhabits memory. The final poem, 'For an Unwritten Opera,' strikes a lyric, almost formal pose, invoking 'magpie beauty'--a kind of separateness within unity that can shape itself into love . . . Another restless exploration from a writer whose work defies conventionality and refuses to stop asking questions. (Ellen Kaufman, Library Journal (starred review))

My favourite book of the spring--and likely of many springs to come--is Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart, our great poet of rage--rage at the self, rage at the world--and acceptance. This collection engages his entire body of work, echoing the lyric fluency of his incomparable 2008 collection Watching the Spring Festival, assessing his legendary long poem "Ellen West," from 1977's The Book of the Body, and even harking back to the visionary terrain of his debut, Golden State. Metaphysical Dog is a book of devastating beauty and genuine terror--an unrelenting inquiry into some of the darkest corners of existence. No writer means as much to me as Frank Bidart, and I'm conscious of the inadequacy of this attempt to describe his work. But how do you write about unspeakable eloquence? How can you explain art that has taught you how to live? (Jared Bland, The Globe and Mail)

'At seventy-two, the future is what I mourn,' Bidart announces in this starkly inspiring eighth collection. The poet's spiky free reverse remains direct, sometimes even frightening, and clearer than ever before about mortality--his own death, and the deaths of his friends and his parents; and yet, perhaps in the spirit of anticipatory mourning, familiar interests--in old and new movies, terse metaphysical argument, and sex, especially sex between men--are all present. 'The true language of ecstasy / is the forbidden // language of the mystics,' he says in 'Defrocked,' exploring the language of piety as well as of blasphemy as he returns to his Bakersfield, Calif., childhood and his family's Catholic belief. Bidart's taut lines investigate faith and doubt, art and yearning, erotic fulfillment and literary heritage, 'fueled by the ruthless gaze that / unshackled the chains shackling / queer me in adolescence,' even as they investigate their own premises; in 'Writing "Ellen West," ' they also ask how Bidart composed one of his own most famous poems. The new volume veers away from the interest in overt beauty, rendered in musical lines, that was evinced in Watching the Spring Festival (2009), leaning more in this volume on the wiry abstractions of Bidart's earlier work. At the same time, the poems of Metaphysical Dog are at once emotionally bracing and full of intellectual reward. Bidart is widely admired by other influential poets; he seems in line for even more attention than he has received. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

Frank Bidart has made an epic return to poetry, this time giving readers his latest collection, Metaphysical Dog, a work that dissects personal complexities in search for acceptance from within . . . At 72-years-old, Bidart keeps readers enticed as we savor this deeply reflective collection. Each piece is full of dynamic energy that keeps readers captivated. Such is the case with the poem 'History,' a winding piece of symphonic beauty . . . The work can be described as dark and erotic as Bidart switches from themes of death to sex. A striking commonality between them, as Bidart seems to suggest, exists with our curiosity. While sex and death are two immense themes within the contemporary work, Bidart places particular emphasis on his personal upbringing, faith, and homosexuality . . . Each poem seems to serve as a reflection posed in question. As each of the multifaceted pieces breaks down its walls, readers advance into a place of vulnerability and speculation. Over the course of the collection, Bidart comes to find those answers, as theory becomes growth, inner-strength, and assurance. Metaphysical Dog is a burning and poignant read chock-full of lengthy prose to short, forceful pieces. As the collection has proved, time and time again, Bidart has continued to maintain his status as a prolific, unstoppable wordsmith. (Kacy Muir, Times Leader)

[A] brilliant new collection . . . No other poet sounds like Bidart . . . you can hear the muscular physicality of his language, the way the sentence twists around the line breaks, never quite as expected. Bidart's line are often very beautiful, but they seldom move with conventional grace . . . Bidart's work is one of the unfolding wonders of the literature of our time. Read this book. (Garth Greenwell, Towleroad)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374173613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374173616
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like most poets I have admired Frank Bidart from the magnificent "Ellen West" onwards. The poems of "Metaphysical Dog are poems that are less performance and more direct. They possess a kind of wisdom one hopes for from age and experience ,although they are given over to a sense of ars poetica. The voice speaks quietly and more in the revelations of long discussion, rather than bombastic confession. As a reader, I would have been pleased if this volume added another dramatic persona to Mr.Bidart's cast of voices from beyond the margin, but this voice is satisfying enough. The poems move at a more rapid self conscious pace through history of character sketches and episodic contemplations revealing the act of revelation to be another fiction but the one where "...I had found my work." [History]. He reflects as anyone who has passed through the experience of themselves must and gleans found moments. He examines the life of his language and returns to his inspirations sex, god and art with grateful yearning.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Philip on July 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
"Magpie beauty."

A phrase that opens (virtually) and closes this collection of poems might strike at the aims of its aesthetic sensibilities; repetition, revisiting, and introspection tread on repeatedly, all in search of a deeper pathos that seems just slightly out of reach.

Frank Bidart is obviously a capable poet. When he aims to do so, his poems strike out at the heart of human matter, or matter of life in general. The opening and titular poem, "Metaphysical Dog", sets the collection on a grim, contemplative tone that is carried through almost every piece. To his ostensibly family canine, Bidart remarks: "How dare being / give him this body." A novel, striking phrase that arrests the reader, and from the on, begs the question: are we to find similarly disarming revelation within every page of the book?

Well, not quite.

There are poems in this collection that cut through Bidart's tendency for verbose rhetoric and deliver a bullet to the heart or mind. When Bidart casts his net over the personal and relatable, his words carry an almost incantatory power; on the subject of homosexuality and its grappling with religion, "History" defines the self-loathing agony of internal conflict: "Ecstasy in your surrender to adolescent / God-hunger, ecstasy / promised by obliterated sex, ecastasy / in which you are free because bound— / in which you call the God who made / what must be obliterated in you love." Bidart tackles this theme a few times in Metaphysical Dog, and almost every time strikes a resounding blow against the armor of the uncertain consciousness. He manages to do the same when other personal subjects come to bare: his feelings about his mother, and the loss of those close.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Glynn Young VINE VOICE on August 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading Frank Bidart's new collection of poems Metaphysical Dog, I learned something about how I read poetry. I learned from the absence of something.

In reading a poetry collection, I usually look for one poem, any poem, that will center the entire collection for me. It might be the title poem, though it often isn't. But one poem becomes, for me, the filter for the rest, a kind of prism of understanding what the poet has done with the poems he or she has included in this particular collection. I admit that this may be a practice peculiar to me.

I didn't find that one poem in reading "Metaphysical Dog:Poems," even after reading it three times.

However, I had a fall-back position. I ended up reading the collection of 39 poems as a single poem, each individual part blending into what preceded and what came after. I don't believe Bidart wrote the poems that way, but that is how I ultimately understood the collection.

Collectively, and even when I break them apart individually, these poems pack a powerful emotional wallop. You begin the reading the first poem, the title poem, and without realizing it you're soon hurtling through a highly personal, highly emotional experience.

The poems range across the poet's life, not in chronological order but in what might be called an increasing intensity of experience. Here's "Like," which comes early on in the poems:

Woe is blunted not erased
by like. Your hands were too full, then

empty. At the grave's

lip, secretly you imagine then
refuse to imagine

a spectre

so like what you watched die, the unique
soul you loved endures a second death.
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...but this work by Bidart brought me wonder, some tears, catharsis, hunger and ecstasy. It is an extremely personal journey that the poet looks back on, and shares here. This book of poems, each building into the next, gave me hope that if the "texting generation" discovers the bones of the English language, the written word may survive! Bidart can say more with less than anyone.
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By L. Gundersen on February 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a heartbreakingly beautiful book of poetry. For anyone who appreciates modern, lyrical, emotional, observational poetry, this is a must.
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