Spending time at a bookstore last night was just the ticket. I only brought home one book, Auto-Da-Fe by Elias Canetti. I’ve never read Canetti before, but I’m pretty it was Litlove from whom I found out about this book. I also almost got Being Dead by Jim Crace, and from all the positive comments on yesterday’s post I should have. Next time it’s coming home with me.

Today I have a lovely little chapbook by Frank Bidart called Music Like Dirt to tell you about. Before I read it I had no idea who Bidart was, but it turns out he’s sorta famous. He’s been nominated for a National Book Award, A National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Pulitzer. He has won many prizes including in 2001 the Wallace Stevens Award given out by the Academy of American Poets. That’s all fine and dandy, but is he any good?

He sure is. I greatly enjoyed Music Like Dirt. There is a definite theme that runs through all the poems, and when I got to the end of the chapbook, I found a note from Bidart that confirmed my suspicions:

I wanted to make a sequence in which the human need to make is seen as not only central but inescapable. I wanted not a tract, but a tapestry in which making is seen in the context of the other processes–sexuality, mortality–inescapable from it.

I’d say he achieved this very well. I felt more engaged with some of the poems than others, but that is true for most collections of poetry, not every poem is going to make me say “wow” when I finish it.

The poems I liked best tended to be specifically about making. There is on called “Young Marx” that uses Marx’s ideas about labor that beautifully twines together our need to labor and make with the tragedy that is our economic system which disconnects us from what we make and ultimately from ourselves.

The prose poem, “Advice for the Players,” is written in little snippets. Some of the stanzas, I guess you’d call them, are quite short, like “We are creatures who need to make.” And “Making is the mirror in which we see ourselves.” The latter gets repeated again later in the poem and is italicized for emphasis and acts as a sort of summing up to what has come before as well as something you can take away and think about for a very long time. This poem also reminds us that making isn’t necessarily a good thing, not only can we be estranged from it as in “Young Marx,” but also mis-shaped when we lack clarity or make unwise choices.

I give you the final poem in the collection as an example of Bidart’s writing and as representative of this chapbook:

Lament For the Makers

Not bird not badger not beaver not bee

Many creatures must
make, but only one must seek

within itself what to make

My father’s ring was a B with a dart
through it, in diamonds against polished black stone.

I have it. What parents leave you
is their lives.

Until my mother died she struggled to make
a house that she did not loathe; paintings; poems; me.

Many creatures must

make, but only one must seek
within itself what to make

Not bird not badger not beaver not bee



Teach me, masters who by making were
remade, your art.

It’s that last bit that gets me, a cry and the desire for making to be good, not mis-shaped or disconnected, but nothing short of remaking the self.

I know it isn’t quite National Poetry Month, but it’s close enough for me to say that in celebration I will send to three of you a copy of the chapbook. These were given to my Bookman and he, and I, would like to share them. All you need to do is leave a comment and if you have a favorite poet or poem, let me know. If more than three of you are interested, names will be drawn from a dish or bowl or cup, whatever happens to be handy on Tuesday.