Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Note On Frank Bidart

The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton University Press, 1993) defines parallelism as “The repetition of identical or similar syntactic patterns in adjacent phrases, clauses, or sentences; the matching patterns are usually doubled, but more extensive iteration is not rare. The core of a parallelism is syntactic; when syntactic frames are set in equivalence by parallelism, the elements filling those frames are brought into alignment as well, especially on the lexical level (thus the term 'semantic parallelism.')"

The poet wanting to see the principle at work would do well to buy a copy of Frank Bidart’s Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) in which many of the poems rely upon parallel constructions.

In “The Old Man at the Wheel,” for example, Bidart writes:

Measured against the immeasurable
universe, no word you have spoken

brought light. Brought
light to what, as a child, you thought

too dark to be survived. By exorcism
you survived. By submission, then making.

You let all the parts of that thing you would
cut out of you enter your poem because

enacting there all its parts allowed you
the illusion you could cut it from your soul.

Dilemmas of choice given what cannot
change alone roused you to words.

As you grip the things that were young when
you were young, they crumble in your hand.

Now you must drive west, which in November
means driving directly into the sun.

When reading this collection, Bidart’s use of parallelism comes as a discovery and (because of its frequency--this book is replete with parallelisms!) ends as a slight annoyance--almost a literary tic.


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