From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In his seventh book, Bidart condenses his searing, guilt-ridden meditations on the possibilities and limits of the imagination into shorter lyrics, as opposed to the long poems for which he is known. Mostly written in the second person, this speaker addresses himself, fighting the fear that ...all that releases/ transformation in us is illusion with the flailing hope that, [t]he rituals// you love imply that, repeating them,/ you store seeds that promise/ the end of ritual. Bidart's rituals of consolation include replaying records from the early decades of recorded music; revisiting and revising old, failed loves (...you persuade yourself that it can be/ reversed because he teasingly sprinkles/ evasive accounts of his erotic history); watching a film of the aging Russian dancer Ulanova, who is too old to dance something but the world wants to record it; and learning caution and peace from the Tu Fu poem from which the collection takes its title. In his most intimate and vulnerable book, Bidart enacts a troubled longing to parse the real from the merely imaginary, the transcendent from the merely real, which is answered, even if incompletely, only by the human capacity to create, as the irreparable enters me again, again me it twists. (Apr.)
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Bidart’s first collection not dominated by one or more long narratives shows him concerned, hardly for the first time, with the resonance of the old saw ars longa, vita brevis. The title poem and its cognate, “Tu Fu Watches the Spring Festival across Serpentine Lake,” participate in an artistic life begun in 753 with an extravagant imperial court celebration that one of China’s greatest poets witnessed—an imaginative life that links, across the centuries, human death and persistent artistry, unfortunately with the impotent fury that beautiful longevity arouses. The inability to clearly and logically connect art’s endurance and life’s transience doesn’t lessen the feelings, the fury, felt because of the connection. Catullus said something similar about life and love in his famous couplet beginning, “Odi et amo” (“I hate and I love”), Bidart’s version of which appears between the festival poems. A different reaction to the same conundrum of life and art—awe, not rage—is also conveyed, unforgettably by the volume’s longest piece, “Ulanova at Forty-Six at Last Dances before a Camera Giselle.” Bidart, though “difficult,” is nonpareil. --Ray Olson