Frank Bidart

Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965 - 2016

Winner of the National Book Award for Poetry

Barnes and Noble

We are honored to publish Frank Bidart, whose book of collected poems Half-Light is the winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry. These poems, penned between 1965 and 2016, embody a transgressive empathy, one that recognizes wild appetites, the monsters, the misfits, the misunderstood among us and inside us. Here we bring you the text of Bidart’s acceptance speech at the National Book Awards ceremony, as well as one of the poems featured in Half-Light, “Old and Young.”

“I want to say what an honor it has been to be a finalist alongside these four poets and their superb books. The first person I must thank is Jon Galassi. He’s a dream editor. My indebtedness to him throughout my writing and publishing life cannot possibly be repaid. Secondly, I want to thank Andrew Wylie. After my last book, when we had dinner, he brought a pile of all my eight books and said that I must put them together in one volume. Without his words I don’t know that I would have had the courage to do so. Art has many mansions. There’s always something wrong when we treat it as if it’s one mansion, with a discernible hierarchy of values within it. I realized during the past month that I’m almost twice as old as any of the other finalists. Writing the poems was how I survived. You might well ask, ‘Is it really a question of survival?’ My sense is that all human beings alive have enormous schisms in their experience, terrifying schisms within our feelings and within what we discover the world to be. One premise of art is that anything personal seen deeply enough becomes general, becomes impersonal. I hope that the journeys these poems go on will help others to survive as well: one book, eight books whose hubris is to seek to become understood as a single project, as one book. I thank you for honoring it.”

“Old and Young”

If you have looked at someone in
a mirror
looking at you in the mirror

your eyes meeting
not face to face

backstage as you
for a performance

you look into the long horizontal
that backs the long theatrical

make-up table that runs along one
wall of the high dressing-room aerie
from which you must descend to the stage

there in the mirror you see
his eyes
looking into your eyes in the mirror

where you
amused begin to talk

suddenly inspired not
to look at each other
directly but held by this third

thing as his eyes
allow your eyes to
follow his eyes in the mirror

you ask if anyone has ever
made a movie
in which two people talk not

directly to each other but during
the entire
static but dynamic

film as they go about their lives
their eyes are
locked staring at each other in a mirror

that they together hold a few feet
above them
or beside them

knowing if they look away
they will lose
what they now possess

trapped but freed
neither knowing
why this is better

why this
as long as no one enters
is release

because you are
his age


space which
every other
space merely approximates

you ask again if
anybody made a movie
about this

enter loudly and when you
plural each look away you plural soon go on

Frank Bidart is the author of Metaphysical Dog (FSG, 2013), Watching the Spring Festival (FSG, 2008), Star Dust (FSG, 2005), Desire (FSG, 1997), and In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (FSG, 1990). He has won many prizes, including the Wallace Stevens Award, the 2007 Bollingen Prize in American Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.