Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

I hate and--love. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails itself, hanging crucified.--from "Catullus: Excrucior" In Frank Bidart's collection of poems, the encounter with desire is the encounter with destiny. The first half contains some of Bidart's most luminous and intimate work-poems about the art of writing, Eros, and the desolations and mirror of history (in a spectacular narrative based on Tacitus). The ...

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Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

I hate and--love. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails itself, hanging crucified.--from "Catullus: Excrucior" In Frank Bidart's collection of poems, the encounter with desire is the encounter with destiny. The first half contains some of Bidart's most luminous and intimate work-poems about the art of writing, Eros, and the desolations and mirror of history (in a spectacular narrative based on Tacitus). The second half of the book exts the overt lyricism of the opening section into even more ambitious territory-"The Second Hour of the Night" may be Bidart's most profound and complex meditation on the illusion of will, his most seductive dramatic poem to date.

Desire is a 1997 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[Desire] is insightful, disturbing, complex, personal, painstaking, and driven. Almost no poet since Robert Lowell . . . has written verse that so successfully exemplifies these qualities."--Stephen Burt, The New Leader

"Cementing his reputation as a poet of astonishing originality, Bidart revisits classical encounters--the aftermath of a battle described by Tacitus, an incestuous romance in Ovid--and fashions them into a poetic idiom uniquely his own."--David Lehman, People

From the Publisher
"[Desire] is insightful, disturbing, complex, personal, painstaking, and driven. Almost no poet since Robert Lowell . . . has written verse that so successfully exemplifies these qualities."—Stephen Burt, The New Leader

"Cementing his reputation as a poet of astonishing originality, Bidart revisits classical encounters—the aftermath of a battle described by Tacitus, an incestuous romance in Ovid—and fashions them into a poetic idiom uniquely his own."—David Lehman, People

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Unearthed from a dark subconscious and broadcast through classical tropes, desire, for Bidart, is not simply an emotion. It is a force ancient, long-buried and profane: "...telling those who swarm around him his desire/ is that an appendage from each of them/ fill, invade each of his orifices." There are seductions of the dead ("Don't worry I know you're dead/ but tonight// turn your face again/ toward me") and corruption of the young ("What he was doing was something I'd always// crave in later life, just as he did"). The Roman Empire, Greek and Roman mythologies and a lover's death are alluded to throughout this fifth collection, heightening a pervasive sense of tragedy. "The Second Hour of the Night" occupies more than half the book and tells of Myrrah, mother of Adonis, who slept with her father and then could bear to be neither alive nor dead. The gods respond by transforming her into a tree: "She must/ submit, lose her body to an alien/ body not chosen, as the source of ecstasy is/ not chosen." For Bidart we are helpless in the face of what we crave, and often powerless to remedy loss or resolve contradiction. A poem after Catullus reads in its entirety: "I hate andlove. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails itself, hanging crucified." (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374525996
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1 PBK ED
  • Pages: 84
  • Sales rank: 955,266
  • Product dimensions: 5.79 (w) x 8.33 (h) x 0.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Bidart's poems are collected in In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (FSG, 1990). In 1998 he won the Bobbitt Prize and received a Lannan Literary Fellowship. He teaches at Wellesley College.

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Table of Contents

As the Eye to the Sun 3
Love Incarnate 5
Overheard through the Walls of the Invisible City 6
Adolescence 7
Catullus: Excrucior 8
Borges and I 9
Homo Faber 12
In Memory of Joe Brainard 13
The Yoke 14
Lady Bird 15
If I Could Mourn Like a Mourning Dove 16
The Return 17
A Coin for Joe, with the Image of a Horse; c. 350-325 BC 23
The Second Hour of the Night 27
Note 61
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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, June 18, welcomed Wally Lamb, author of I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE.

Moderator: Welcome to, Wally Lamb. You must have had quite a day, and we're thrilled you could find the time to join us online to discuss I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE. They say lightning never strikes twice -- you certainly must be electrified by Oprah's announcement today.

Wally Lamb: I've been looking forward to it. I still feel the jolt, believe me.

Cindy from Seattle: I read your last novel and loved it! I am sure I will buy your new one soon. I always like to hear how an author describes their own book. What is I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE about?

Wally Lamb: It's the story of identical twin brothers, one of whom develops schizophrenia in his first year of college. It's also about a man's search for his father and a struggle against despair and toward hope.

Penny from Nashville: How does it feel to have been chosen for Oprah's club twice? Do you have an airdate yet for the show on the new book?

Wally Lamb: I'm humbled by the second selection, as I was by the first. It seemed less unnerving to do the show a second time, and the Oprah people tell me I'll be back in August for a show that airs in late August or early September. There's no specific date yet.

David from Berrien Springs, MI: Why did you choose to write about twins? My two best friends are identical twin guys. They are like brothers to me, so I definitely have a fascination with the phenomenon. But literature has never really spotlighted twins. Tom Tryon's book THE OTHER (which centers around twins, though not like your book), and many stories and fictions by Joyce Carol Oates feature twins, but that is all I can think of. From where did you derive literary inspiration to write about twin boys? (By the way, I loved!)

Wally Lamb: Well, of course there are many twins in ancient myth, and I usually start there when I begin a novel. I read the oldest stories. But I did not set out to write about identical twin brothers. I began with the character who eventually became Dominick. I knew nothing about him or his situation, but I had his angry voice and behind that anger, his despair. When I began writing a scene with his brother, I realized first of all that his brother was one of the sources of his problems,and later on in the process that they were identical twins. I knew nothing about either identical twin relationships or the subject of schizophrenia and had to research as I was writing the fiction. I talked to a lot of twins during this five-and-a-half-year process.

Heather from Yonkers, New York: I loved the book SHE'S COME UNDONE. I would like to know what inspired you to write such a beautiful book.

Wally Lamb: For me, it seems more like grunt work than inspiration, but again, with Dolores, I started with a voice and I had early on her self-deprecating humor and her pain. That was evident before I had either her size or her story.

Georgia from Atlantic City: Your characters' ethnic backgrounds play an enormous role in this novel -- there's Dominick and Thomas's Italian heritage, Dessa's Greek background, and of course the wonderful insights of Dr. Patel. How and why did all these come together in I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE? And, if I may ask, what is your ethnic background?

Wally Lamb: I am Sicilian/Italian on my mother's side, but don't confuse me with Dominick. I have some very close Greek friends, and the psychologist's Indian heritage is a tribute to the fact that this novel in some ways was inspired by an ancient Hindu myth, which I found in a book by Heinrich Zimmer, called "The King and the Corpse."

Sarah Stanton from Great Falls: Why did you choose to make one of the twins schizophrenic? Is it common that an identical twin would be schizophrenic?

Wally Lamb: What is uncommon is that if one identical twin develops the disease, the other one does not. That only happens, according to my research, in about 10 to 12 percent of the cases. I did not choose schizophrenia as a subject in any direct way. It sort of chose me. I had written several scenes with Thomas and had his behavior before I had his diagnosis. Then I described that behavior to a psychiatrist, and he was the one who said the words "paranoid schizophrenic." At that point it was incumbent upon me to go and learn as much about the disease as possible, both by reading about it and talking to people, both schizophrenics and their family members.

Lorraine from Miami: Both of your books are a lot about personal suffering. Why do you focus on this? Have you suffered much yourself?

Wally Lamb: I've had, luckily, a fairly conventional and tragedy-free life, but I have been a high school teacher for 25 years and in that role have seen how sometimes life deals difficult hands to people. I consider myself to be a fairly empathetic person, and the process of writing the two novels I have worked on has, I think, made me more empathetic. For me, the value of writing fiction is the chance to crawl out of my own skin and push past the limitations of my own experience.

Niki from New Orleans: One of the most endearing qualitites of your first novel, SHE'S COME UNDONE, was the amazing way you wrote from a female perspective. What perspective does this book come from, and how did you prepare yourself for the role of Dolores?

Wally Lamb: I have a three-part answer to that. One, I grew up with older sisters, and my older girl cousins lived just down the street. The only boy in our neighborhood was a kid named Vito and he threw rocks, so early on I was cast in the role of the observer of wild and crazy female behavior. Beyond that, as I've mentioned, I've worked with high school kids for two and a half decades, and thirdly, I work in a writer's group and in the process of writing SHE'S COME UNDONE, whenever I hit false notes, and I hit plenty of them, the women in that group spoke up enthusiastically, so I was able to revise accordingly.

Jennifer from New York: What advice would you give to young writers just starting out? Did you major in writing in college?

Wally Lamb: I came to writing fairly late. I stared writing fiction the same year that I became a father for the first time, and I was thirty years old. I was, however, preparing for writing all my life because I had drawn all my life. And when I write, I can sort of see the story unfolding to me in pictures. The advice that I would give to young writers is to be patient with the process and not settle for draft one, or draft two, or maybe even draft seven. Show your writing to other people, listen to their feedback, and be satisfied only when you feel you can work it no further.

Lisa from Torrington CT: I absolutely loved SHE'S COME UNDONE! How does this novel compare to SHE'S COME UNDONE?

Wally Lamb: This is, I feel, a more complex novel with lots of layers, but also, hopefully, very readable.

Cheri Arlington from Sonoma: I have to say, I love Dominick from I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE. He's a wonderful character and I enjoy going back to him again and again. I also loved Dolores in SHE'S COME UNDONE. But both characters make me feel uncomfortable at times. Is this tension something that [you hoped I'd feel] -- is it an intentional part of the character creation -- or is it something that might be individual to my experience of reading your books?

Wally Lamb: If Dominick and Dolores make you feel uncomfortable at times, I share that discomfort with you. Even though I was writing as if I were the characters, in both cases I felt parental toward them. Just as you don't always approve of your children's behavior or their choices, you can't always control that. Throughout the writing of both of these novels, I could best describe my own reactions as sitting on the sidelines, watching and hearing their stories unfold, and rooting for them to do the hard work it takes to become a better person.

Larry from Melborne: What inspired you to use the photographs on the book jacket?

Wally Lamb: There's an interesting story there. That photo was taken by Dr. David Teplica. He is an M.D. in the Chicago area who is also a photographer and has a fascination with twins. I first saw Teplica's work in a New Yorker article about twins, which was illustrated with his stunning photography. But alas, at the time that we inquired, Dr. Teplica had no photographs of twin infants, which is what I saw on the cover of the novel. My editor and I looked elsewhere for about a year and a half and then, on a lark, contacted Teplica again. As luck would have it, he had taken photographs of twin infants just the month before. He sent a print to the publisher in New York, and when I opened up the FedEx package and saw the image, I knew I had what was for me the ideal cover.

Sarah from St. Louis: From the part that I have read, I sense that I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE is a deeply spiritual book, focusing on forgiveness. What are your own religious beliefs? How did they influence how you told this story?

Wally Lamb: I was raised as a Roman Catholic, drifted away from the church, and then made my way back again after my own children were born. In the five and a half years it took to write this novel, I saw and experienced a lot of sadness and tragedy. My brother-in-law was killed in a skiing accident, one of my students was struck and killed in a car with her younger brother, another of my students died of leukemia, and in my own life, I, with my wife, made the decision to adopt a little boy whose parents both suffer from the disease of alcoholism. So there were some tough times and a lot of questioning on my part as to the meaning of life and the existence of mercy. As Dominick struggles toward his own spiritual enlightenment, I was experiencing a parallel struggle.

Degusman from Madera, CA: What a title! It sounds like a song. Where does it come from? And who is the "I" in the title -- Dominick?

Wally Lamb: Yes, I hear Dominick making that statement. There was a song popular in the early '80s called "True" by Spandau Ballet; although the lyric of that song doesn't relate to the story, it played in my head for the nearly six years that I was writing the novel. I called this book many other things along the way, but when, on the last day, I realized that I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE would be the closing sentence, it also struck me as the appropriate title.

Shelley from Milwaukee: As I read about Dolores's life, I kept thinking nothing else bad can happen to her. And then BANG, along came another hurdle for her to jump. Watching your interview with Oprah today, it sounded as if the same is true in your new book. It goes on and on and on. How do you instill such strength in your characters to give them the hope they need to continue?

Wally Lamb: I do believe, as the book title suggests, that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I also believe that struggling against pain that you may or may not have brought on yourself can make you stronger. I would not have stayed in teaching for as long as I have if I were not optimistic myself about people's abilities to weather the storm and come out stronger. I am personally a more hopeful than cynical person and believe that we are all works in progress.

Soraya from Madera, CA: When you read from I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE during your reading tour, what passages do you pick to read? Also, will you ever be coming to central California in the near future? Madera is near Fresno...

Wally Lamb: I just left California earlier this week. I was in the San Diego area, the L.A. area, and San Francisco. I have been reading excerpts from the first chapter and more frequently from the second. Most bookstores want to contain the reading to 15 minutes or so, and this book covers so much ground that I'm often puzzled about which glimpse to give to the audience. But I do love to read from my work, and when I do I fall right back into the characters' lives.

Clark from LA: Where would you say Dolores is now?

Wally Lamb: Well, she is living in a screenplay these days, having gone off to Hollywood. I'll be working on the next draft of that screenplay, although I have not written the original. I've been asked to try to bring back some of the humor of Dolores's voice. I've never written for the screen before, but I'm willing to try anything once. Well, almost anything.

Marie from Indiana: Greetings! I'm right smack in the middle of I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE and I'm loving every word of it. I am curious about the time period this novel is set in -- right before the Gulf War in the early '90s. Why did you decide to set the current story line during this particular time period?

Wally Lamb: The chronology between the covers was not the order in which the story was written. My first glimpse of Dominick behind the wheel of his pickup truck eventually found its way into Chapter 27. But when I wrote the opening scene in the library, I was pretty sure that that's where I wanted to begin the story and then tell it both forward, from Thomas's act of self-mutilation, and also backward in time, both to the childhoods of the twins and further back into their grandfather's life, which existed before theirs.

Betty from Ider: You said you felt parental toward your book characters. Would you say a successful parenting job had been accomplished with Delores and Dominick?

Wally Lamb: Hopefully. But when one sends one's children out into the world, there are no guarantees.

Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us tonight. We are thrilled that you could hang out in our auditorium for a while! Congratulations again for your second Oprah's Pick -- we are all very excited for you and wish you the best of luck. Before you go, any closing comments for your readers?

Wally Lamb: I realize that this is a long and challenging read, and for those who get into the novel my hope is that it rewards them for their time and attention. All good wishes to everyone. I have enjoyed this conversation.

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