George Bilgere received his Ph.D. from Denver University. He has worked on public television in Japan, and has taught at the University of Oklahoma and in Bilbao, Spain, as a Fulbright Fellow. He teaches contemporary literature at John Carroll University in Cleveland, and is the host of the spoken-word radio show, WORDPLAY.
His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Sewanee Review, The Georgia Review, Fulcrum, The Southern Review, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. His work has been reprinted in numerous anthologies, including 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, and Poetry magazine’s ninetieth anniversary anthology.
George Bilgere is the 2006 winner of the May Swenson Poetry Award for his book of poems, Haywire, chosen by judge Ed Field and now available from Utah State University Press.
In 2002, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins selected his collection, The Good Kiss, to win the University of Akron Poetry Award. “In the house of contemporary poetry,” said Collins, “The Good Kiss is a breath of fresh, American air.” Bilgere’s other books include Big Bang (1999) and The Going, winner of the 1995 Devins Award and the Society of Midland Authors Award.
In the fall of 2006, poems from Haywire and The Good Kiss were read by Garrison Keillor on eight broadcasts of his daily poetry show, The Writer’s Almanac, carried by 370 NPR affiliates around the country.
In October of 2006 he was awarded the Helen and Laura Krout Memorial Ohioana Poetry Award, given to a poet who has produced a significant body of work and whose efforts have contributed to poetry in Ohio.
George Bilgere has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright Commission, and the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress. He is the 2003 winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and received a 2007 Ohio Arts Council grant in poetry.
He has given poetry readings at venues around the country, including the 92nd Street Y in New York with Billy Collins and the Library of Congress with Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.
Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel
by George Bilgere
Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.
We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other’s silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.
All the characters can relax.
I’m giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.
In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,
the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.
We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.
by George Bilgere
They sit around the house
Not doing much of anything: the boxed set
Of the complete works of Verdi, unopened.
The complete Proust, unread:
The French-cut silk shirts
Which hang like expensive ghosts in the closet
And make me look exactly
Like the kind of middle-aged man
Who would wear a French-cut silk shirt:
The reflector telescope I thought would unlock
The mysteries of the heavens
But which I only used once or twice
To try to find something heavenly
In the window of the high-rise down the road,
And which now stares disconsolately at the ceiling
When it could be examining the Crab Nebula:
The 30-day course in Spanish
Whose text I never opened,
Whose dozen cassette tapes remain unplayed,
Save for Tape One, where I never learned
Whether the suave American
Conversing with a sultry-sounding desk clerk
At a Madrid hotel about the possibility
Of obtaining a room,
Actually managed to check in.
I like to think
That one thing led to another between them
And that by Tape Six or so
They’re happily married
And raising a bilingual child in Seville or Terra Haute.
But I’ll never know.
Suddenly I realize
I have constructed the perfect home
For a sexy, Spanish-speaking astronomer
Who reads Proust while listening to Italian arias,
And I wonder if somewhere in this teeming city
There lives a woman with, say,
A fencing foil gathering dust in the corner
Near her unused easel, a rainbow of oil paints
Drying in their tubes
On the table where the violin
She bought on a whim
Lies entombed in the permanent darkness
Of its locked case
Next to the abandoned chess set,
A woman who has always dreamed of becoming
The kind of woman the man I’ve always dreamed of becoming
Has always dreamed of meeting,
And while the two of them discuss star clusters
And Cezanne, while they fence delicately
In Castilian Spanish to the strains of Rigoletto,
She and I will stand in the steamy kitchen,
Fixing up a little risotto,
Enjoying a modest cabernet,
While talking over a day so ordinary
As to seem miraculous.
The Good Kiss
by George Bilgere
And then there was the night, not long
After my wife had left me and taken on the world-
Destroying fact of a lover, and the city
Roared in flames with it outside my window,
I brought home a nice woman who had listened
To me chant my epic woe for three
Consecutive nights of epic drinking,
Both of us holding on to the bar’s
Darkly flowing river of swirling grain
As my own misery flowed past and joined
The tributary of hers, our murmured consolations
Entwining in precisely the same
Recitative, the same duet that has beyond
All doubt been sung in dark caves
Of drink since the very beginning
Of despair, the song going on until there was nothing
For it but to drive through an early summer
Thunderstorm in the windy night
To my little East Side apartment and gently
Take off her clothes and lay her down
On my bed by the light
Of a single candle and the lightning
And kiss her for a long time in gratitude
And then desire, and then gently kiss the full
Moons of her breasts, which I discovered
By candlelight were not hers, exactly;
Under each of them was the saddest,
Tenderest little smile of a scar,
Like two sad smiles of apology.
I had them done
So he wouldn’t leave, she said,
But in the end he left anyway, her breasts
Standing like two cold cathedrals
In the light of the flaming city
And I kissed the little wounds
He had left her, as if I could heal them
And kissed the nipples he had left behind
Until they smoldered like the ashes
Of a campfire the posse finds
Days after the fugitive has slept there
And moved on, drawn by the beautiful
And terrible light of the distant city.
by George Bilgere
On these summer nights I play
Ping-Pong with my brother-in-law,
A couple of beers condensing
On the tool shelf, the Giants game
Coming in loud and clear
On the paint-spattered shop radio
And tonight I’m working quite seriously
On my troublesome forehand,
Giving more concentration than usual
To the problem of topspin.
Today a woman on our street,
Running late for work, backed up
Her SUV and rolled over
Her three-year-old son. All day
I’ve thought of her as she goes
Through the hours, living in that remote,
Astonishing place she has discovered,
Someplace wholly new
Where few of us have ever ventured,
And as I trot down the driveway
To retrieve an errant smash
I realize that the sheer speed and pressure
Of her passage out of the world
I’m living in tonight, and into the blazing
Spaces where she is traveling
Far beyond me, like the blue fleck
Of a satellite, utterly alone,
Is what makes the lighted mouth
Of the garage, with its beer and ball game,
Its smell of oil and gas, its cardboard boxes
Of family history, seem like a sweet
Refuge, a cave I return to gratefully,
Holding the white moon of the ball—
A fragile, weightless thing.