Striking ... If Bidart is famous for his soliloquies and the essayistic quality of his lyric long poems, his new collection amplifies the undercurrent of uncertainty that has always supported those forms ... His shimmering language is on display across the philosophical, autobiographical, and devotional styles these poems adopt, employing his signature play with capitalization and quotations ... Across the collection, Bidart intermittently turns to his family's complicity in racism with mixed results, but always with pathos as it explores formative childhood scenes ... This collection is another memorable contribution to Bidart's oeuvre.
Dylan Thomas famously wrote 'Old age should burn and rave at close of day,' advice expertly followed by Bidart, now 82, in this new...smoldering collection of forthright lyric poems ... Though sometimes uncomfortable to read, Bidart’s unleavened expressions of disillusionment, despair, and futility in the face of age...are acts of resistance against the inevitability of death. Their blunt force may escape younger poetry lovers but will resonate poignantly with older generations of readers.
For Bidart, looking different was pursuant to sounding different. Dynamic, radical enjambment; unconventional typography; expressive capitalization: his poems look, emphatically, like no one else’s. Yet his vers libre intoxicates a reader as much as any traditional prosodic shape: read Bidart aloud and hear how thoroughly a human voice can be 'fastened' onto the page ... Labor of refinement and clarification, while understandable and noble, does hamper some of the first section’s momentum ... The proximity of the expiration of flesh has made for some of the most affecting poems here, like 'On My Seventy-Eighth,' whose alternating long and short lines veer between vigorous bel canto and solemn sotto voce ... Against Silence memorably sees our greatest living poet of the flesh expressing and assessing fear of flesh’s end, of dispensability, of desire’s flame dimming to mere flicker ... Bidart, when fearful, is ever careful to remind himself what his poems have long reminded us: 'Come, / give up silence,' he writes. The poet and reader keen to censor, ironize, or infantilize their own desires will find in the work of Frank Bidart a half-century-long rebuttal.
In Bidart’s newest collection, Against Silence, the history of the spirit is as much the individual story of the self, as seen in particular landscapes, as it is a larger story of general demise. This new book is elegiac, lamenting the poet’s old age, America, and the dying natural world ... [A] temperate voice recurs throughout Bidart’s work. Usually it’s in dialogue with the poet’s past, specifically the landscapes of Bakersfield and the Mojave Desert. That dialogue continues in the present collection, in Bidart’s unique style: words are capitalized for emphasis and italicized for sotto voce and digressions; punctuation is individualized and sometimes weaponized. Some readers have found this aspect of his poetry distracting ... Bidart has gradually become less dependent on this technique; the longer poems or sequences in Against Silence pose few such typographic or punctuational challenges ... Bidart, like all strong poets, is continually reinventing and rediscovering himself; even at the brink of dissolution he refuses to be silent.