The poems of Bidart's book, Desire, add to a body of work already rivaling 20th-century poetry's great spiritual inquiries: T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and W. B. Yeats's A Vision. Eliot sought resolution. Yeats saw no hell below heaven and earth, but sought another realm of being. Bidart's poems explore the night-world of desire. The speakers-each an actor, victim, and witness to desire-recognize that by seeking love we discover what is within us. The soul's dilemma, then, is how to embrace a passion for what is horrifying and destructive when the consciousness of such desire could annihilate the self.
His lyrics-perhaps arias is a better term-emerge from a world deprived of blandishments and surface distractions, of the multiform experience. The somber tone throughout Bidart's work offers the challenge of "high seriousness" to the democratic opportunities of contemporary free verse, even as the unique "look" of his verse-frames (marked by expressive use of italics, capital letters, punctuation, etc., in what Bidart has called a "'deploying' [of] words on the page" ) has, in this volume, returned more to present-day practice: the radical pressure for inventiveness, always felt in Bidart's work and often seen in his typography. Desire exceeds the scope of Bidart's earlier work, where life was sacrificed before art, and insight became subsumed under tragic knowledge. Desire offers us a spiritual guidebook, one that shows a darker, more complete sense of the spirit than either Eliot or Yeats allowed. Transcendence for Bidart is not raising of the self toward church deities, nor a search for familiar voices in the twilight of consciousness, but an ecstatic plummet of the self, quieted and enlarged from the shocked recognition of its potential. Bidart's gift in these poems is to bring into lyric consciousness our most compelling ontological questions, to bring them to us in clear, personal terms, as when memorializing the death that gave rise the poems of Desire.