This article takes up the intersection of AIDS testimony, lyric poetry, and gay male sexuality in Frank Bidart's poetry. Using Douglas Crimp's discussion of the politics of AIDS aesthetics as a starting point, I focus on Bidart's 1997 collection of poems, Desire, to consider how lyric voice engages the complexities of queer sexuality in the context of AIDS. I argue that Bidart's lyric dramatizes the relationship between apostrophe and the queer body, drawing attention both to the rhetorical dimensions of embodiment and to the material dimensions of rhetoric. Read in relation to Leo Bersani's analysis of gay male desire and subjectivity, Bidart's work illuminates that the self-present human voice on which testimony seems to rely is itself a rhetorical figure whose grounding in the body can never be fully located or made distinct from its own figural status. Through this simultaneous reliance on and challenge to lyric voice, Bidart engages the specific demands that the AIDS crisis places on testimony while reminding us that desire undermines even as it sustains testimony's imperatives. His poetry thus complicates both the centrality of voice in lyric studies and the seemingly necessary association between voice and transparent subjectivity that has emerged as a subject of contention in American poetry studies.
Stephanie Youngblood; Material Voices: Queer Lyric and AIDS Testimony in Frank Bidart's Desire. GLQ 1 June 2014; 20 (3): 277–296. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-2422674
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