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This article is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

Frank Bidart and the Fate of the Lyric Justin Quinn

Referring to the contemporary context and mentioning Frank Bidart, Jorie Graham remarked, 'I feel like I'm writing as part of a group of poets - historically - who are potentially looking at the end of the medium itself as a vital part of their culture - unless they do something to help it reconnect itself to mystery and power.' For Graham, one important means of approaching mystery and power is explorations of the limits of the self, which in her case is also connected with explorations of the formal limits of the lyric (see for instance the 'self-portrait' poems in The End of Beauty [1987] and especially her latest collection, Swarm [2000]). The explorations are necessary as Graham feels that the fate of the lyric is hanging in the balance, the implication being that those poets who disregard or fail to recognise this aim only for the Parnassian, a technical competence that entertains. It is of importance then that two poets who take most seriously the idea of the fate of the lyric diverge in important respects from the main stylistic groupings of American poetry of the last thirty years or so.

'Don't turn into the lies / of mere, neat poetry ...' so goes the instruction in 'Golden State', and in his poetic career to date Frank Bidart has taken up this challenge, extending the conventions of the lyric - its voicing, typography, narrative, and volte - in an effort to convey to the reader the ...


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