Joanne Merriam's Reviews > Watching the Spring Festival: Poems

Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart
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Jan 01, 2012

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I saw Frank Bidart read from this book in April 2011, at Vanderbilt University. He's an engaging speaker and well worth seeing if you have the opportunity. He read some shorter poems, including a sestina (“it’s my only sestina; it will be my only sestina – I feel lucky to have escaped with my neck”) and the very long poem “Ulanova at Forty-Six At Last Dances Before a Camera Giselle,” during which I fell asleep. In fairness to Bidart, I was working on a substantial sleep deficit and the reading was in one of those university lecture halls seemingly designed to sedate students. I saw the Winnipeg ballet perform Giselle in 2001, so I was familiar with his inspiration, but it didn’t help me understand the poem, which combined several speakers with a meditation on the writing of the poem itself.

Bidart's work makes me feel stupid; this isn’t Bidart’s fault – he’s obviously a genius, and he expects his audience to be as well, and, alas, I am not. But that's not why I am giving this book only three stars. I don't particularly mind being made to feel stupid, and even appreciate it in some writers (Eliot comes to mind) whose work I feel rewards a patient reader. But I find Bidart's poetry distancing and cold, completely aside from its difficulty. I think he’s doing something (modernist, allusive), that I’m just not interested in. He has some other, more approachable poems (like "Marilyn Monroe") which I enjoy, but by and large I think his approach to poetry is simply too emotionless for me. His writing is experimental and convoluted, and will be rewarding for readers with the patience to sort through his many allusions and who enjoy poetry as an intellectual puzzle.
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