Against Silence: Poems

Farrar. Sept. 2021. 80p. ISBN 9780374603519. $25. POETRY
Dylan Thomas famously wrote “Old age should burn and rave at close of day,” advice expertly followed by Bidart, now 82, in this new (after the Pulitzer Prize–winning Half Light), smoldering collection of forthright lyric poems. In the book’s longest poem, “The Fifth Hour of the Night,” a bitter, unshakeable memory of childhood acquiescence in the face of a grandmother’s racism (“I never forgave her for showing me/ me”), engenders not only deep feelings of anger, guilt, and regret, but a wider pessimism toward the human condition (“At the bottom of existence, contradictory necessary/ demands/ unsolvable, a dilemma”) and the power of language to embody truth (“Words—there is a gap, nonetheless always/ and forever, between words and the world—”).
VERDICT Though sometimes uncomfortable to read, Bidart’s unleavened expressions of disillusionment, despair, and futility in the face of age (“the gnarled old hand / that one day you look down and see/ one day to see as yours”) 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.
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