American Writers, Supplement XV by Leonard Unger, Jay Parini

By Leonard Unger, Jay Parini

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Likewise, a sense of drama and an awareness of the performative aspects of identity are always present in the work. THE EDUCATION OF A POET As an undergraduate at Riverside, Bidart was exposed to thinkers and writers whose teachings made a lasting impression on him. He studied philosophy with Philip Wheelwright, whose interests included myth, symbolism, imagination, ethics, Aristotle, Heraclitus, and Aeschylus. Wheelwright also introduced Bidart to opera, which became a significant interest and influence.

To those whose desires are “lawful” and “common” he suggests: “before the mirror / anoint your body with myrrh // pre- cious bitter resin” (“Second Hour” Desire). While some reviewers found Bidart’s suggestion that taboo, incestuous love is a type for all unbidden desire to be too extreme, most critics found the poem to be profoundly honest and moving. “The Second Hour of the Night” is also concerned with inheritance and the ways children’s lives are shaped and informed by those of their parents.

Ellen West” and “The Arc” also provide examples of Bidart’s innovative use of autobiographical detail in the dramatic monologue form. In “Herbert White” the use of personal and autobiographical material revealed something of Bidart’s past, but in “Ellen West” and “The Arc” he incorporates autobiography in order to consider questions about art and meaning, and to comment on his own project as a poet. This is particularly clear in “Ellen West” when Ellen explores her admiration for the great opera diva Maria Callas, who is well known for having lost a tremendous amount of weight at the height of her career.

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