Wellesley Professor Frank Bidart Wins Bollingen Prize in Poetry

CONTACT: Arlie Corday

WELLESLEY, Mass. – Frank Bidart, Wellesley College's Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English, has been chosen as the 2007 winner of Yale University’s Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

The judging panel described Bidart as “a poet whose work exemplifies consistent originality of theme, sustained linguistic and formal explorations and a strong sense of the profoundly serious and adventurous nature of the poetic calling.”

William Cain, head of the English Department at Wellesley, called Bidart “one of the most important, influential poets in the country. Only a small number of the many fine poets in the United States have been awarded the Bollingen Prize."

This year’s judges were Langdon Hammer, professor of English at Yale University, Nicholas Jenkins, professor of English at Stanford University and the poet Ellen Bryant Voigt of Vermont.

Bidart was born in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1939 and educated at the University of California, Riverside, and at Harvard. He joined the faculty at Wellesley College in 1972. His volumes of poetry include In the Western Night: Collected Poems, 1965-90 (1990), Desire (1997), Star Dust (2005), all from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Music Like Dirt (2002) from Sarabande Books.

The judges had further praise for Bidart's poetry, saying:

“An unearthly mixture of the Dionysian and the Apollonian impulses, the terrifying and the humane, the wildly inspired and the minutely crafted, Bidart's poems—eerie, probing, sometimes shocking, always subtle—venture into psychic terrain left largely unmapped in contemporary poetry. His imaginative strenuousness and his fastidious avoidance of complacency or easy repetitions of past triumphs have led him to Star Dust (2005), one of the strongest books of the last two years, in which Bidart manages to extend his range while never losing his voice. Indeed, Bidart's uniquely stringent meditations on the problems, enigmas and possibilities of a poet's ‘voice’ constitute one of the most distinctive characteristics of his poetry. For all these reasons, the Bollingen Prize Committee for 2007 is pleased to honor Frank Bidart, who has already built up a lifetime's worth of memorable work and yet whose future writing seems certain to be freighted with fresh challenges for himself and for his readers.”

The Bollingen Prize in Poetry, established by Paul Mellon in 1949, is awarded biennially by the Yale University Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry. Previous winners include Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, E. E. Cummings, Louise Glück, Adrienne Rich and Jay Wright. The prize includes a cash award of $100,000.

For more information, contact Patricia Willis, curator, Yale Collection of American Literature, at 203-432-2962 or patricia.willis@yale.edu or Arlie Corday, Wellesley College Office for Public Affairs, at 781-283-3321 or acorday@wellesley.edu.

Below are two of Bidart's prize-winning poems.


Above the dazzling city lies starless
night. Ruthless, you are pleased the price of one

is the other. That night

dense with date palms, crazy with the breath-
less aromas of fresh-cut earth,

black sky thronging with light so thick the fixed

unbruised stars bewildered
sight, I wanted you dazzled, wanted you drunk.

As we lie on our backs in close dark parallel furrows newly

dug, staring up at the consuming sky, light
falling does not stop at flesh: each thing hidden, buried

between us now burns and surrounds us,

visible, like breath in freezing air. What you ignore or refuse
or cannot bear. What I hide that I ask, but

ask. The shimmering improvisations designed to save us

fire melts to law. I touched the hem of your garment. You opened
your side, feeding me briefly just enough to show me why I ask.

Melancholy, as if shorn, you cover each glowing pyre

with dirt. In this light is our grave. Obdurate, you say: We
are darkness. We are the city

whose brightness blots the stars from night.

--from Star Dust, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005



chip of the closed, —L O S T world, toward whose unseen grasses

this long-necked emissary horse

eagerly still
stretches, to graze


World; Grass;

stretching Horse;—ripe with hunger, bright circle
of appetite, risen to feed and famish us, from exile underground . . . for

you chip of the incommensurate
closed world Angel

--from Desire, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997