Frank Bidart

As I have been trying to better understand poetry of engagement, and looking up different poets, I found some work from Frank Bidart. He wrote “To the Rebublic” in The New American Poetry of Engagement, but he has also written multiple poems that take on perspectives of other people. The Poetry Foundation says that “among his most notable pieces are dramatic monologues presented through such characters as Herbert White, a child-murderer, and Ellen West, an anorexic woman.” I read “Ellen West.” Tried to get through “Herbert White,” and it’s incredibly disturbing, so I had to stop (I don’t recommend it), but I found that Bidart is extremely good at taking on other peoples’ perspectives, especially the ones that are painful or confusing to understand. I can see why he would be considered an engaging poet. He does not shy away from the intense reality of what people experience in traumatic situations.

However, this makes me wonder if his poems present a greater risk of sparking the kind of reaction that is problematic for poetry of engagement. “To the Republic” definitely did not sentimentalize peoples’ pain, but I wonder if it is almost “too real.” If someone went through the experiences he described, I wonder if they would want to have access to a poem that skillfully brought back such raw emotion, or if they would rather leave that behind. I am sure it varies for every person, but his way of writing just stuck out to me.

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1 Response to Frank Bidart

  1. Margaret Kennelly says:

    I reread “To the Republic” and I agree with your statement about the poem being “too real” and showing an intense reality. However, I don’t believe that there is a single event that Bidart is trying to convey in this poem. I think this poem is more about the emotions of those involved and the indifference f society.

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