Frank Bidart

22"x28" watercolor and India Ink.


...trying to stop my hunger with FOOD
        is like trying to appease thirst
                                                                with ink.

Frank assisted Robert Lowell. Their collaboration was beneficial to them both. Lowell was a genius, but also a cranky, old school, unbalanced New Englander, in and out of McLean Hospital. Frank helped keep him on track. He grounded Lowell’s genius in practical assistance.

For decades Frank has taught at Wellesley College and is considered one of the leading poets of this generation. When we collaborated, he was very careful how he placed his words on the page, and took a long time to choose the paper. He admired Stephane Mallarme.

I wonder if my bravado in loading a brush with India ink and making my X made him nervous. However, he said he liked the result. I showed the finished piece to the curator at the Houghton Library at Harvard, Rodney Dennis. He would not consider this art. He said “chance” played too large a part in its creation. To him, the India ink X was just a splatter. He said another strike against the piece was that I couldn’t repeat what I’d done. Rodney admired the Old Masters, and their control. He viewed life differently than I did. For me, chance plays more of a role in life, and in art, than we might acknowledge, or even know. When you start with an intention and chance intervenes,  the result can be an unexpected beauty: a rainbow, a murmuration of birds, a great poem...a written image.

Rodney and I became friends. I used to join him and several others to eat hamburgers in a small booth at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square. One day, he came in dazed. He had been negotiating the purchase of Lowell’s papers for the Houghton Library. He said, “Lowell kept raising the price. I’d think we had a deal and then he’d change his mind and up the price! What could I do but agree?”

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