Frank Bidart, a Wellesley College professor who is one of America’s most respected poets, was lying in bed Monday afternoon in Cambridge, watching the Pulitzer Prize announcements on his iPad, not expecting much, when he learned he had won.
“I thought, well, my book would probably be one of the books they would consider. I had no indication I would be a finalist,” said Bidart. “I absolutely did not think it was going to have this result. It was quite shocking.”
“I still can’t believe it’s happened,” he said.
Bidart, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley, teaches poetry workshops and English literature at the college, according to a blurb on the college website. He won for the book “Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016.”
Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy said during Monday’s announcement ceremony that the book was “a volume of unyielding ambition and remarkable scope that mixes long, dramatic poems with short elliptical lyrics, building on classical mythology and reinventing forms of desire that defy societal norms.”
The college’s English department had previously scheduled a poetry reading by Bidart for Tuesday afternoon at the college. Bidart said he expected that event would turn into a celebration of the prize. He’ll also celebrate at dinners with friends over the next month.
Bidart said the award came late in his life, but it was still worth it.
“I’m certainly very pleased,” he said. “When you start out as a poet, you’re very aware of older poets who have won the Pulitzer, and it very often happens that the poets I most admire won it in their old age, Wallace Stevens, for example. And I’m 78 now. So it’s very pleasing to have won before I climb into the ground.” (Stevens won at the age of 75.)
Farrar, Straus & Giroux tweeted that it was “honored to publish his powerful poetry.”
Bidart had already won the National Book Award for the same book in November. He had been a finalist for that prize four times before.
Bidart, who lives alone, still teaches two courses a semester, and enjoys it, he said.
“I love to teach. I don’t want to quit. I have wonderful students,” he said. “I think it would be awful for me to stay home.”
He said teaching also helps, rather than hinders, his writing.
“The reading one does to teach literature feeds one’s work tremendously,” he said. “Constantly thinking about great poems and how they’re put together … it’s a way of thinking about how to make one’s own poems. For me, teaching has been really kind of a crucial part of my writing.”