cover image Metaphysical Dog

Metaphysical Dog

Frank Bidart. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (112p) ISBN 978-0-374-17361-6

“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. (May)