George Bilgere, Poet


His extraordinary gift for finding poetry in the everyday gives the poems of George Bilgere their edge. Whether it is the smell of corned beef and cabbage that has triggered memories of his mother cooking out her anger in the kitchen (“Everything was simmering / Just below the steel lid / Of her smile, as she boiled / The beef into submission, / Chopped her way / Through the vegetable kingdom / With the broken-handled knife”) or the sight of his nephew mowing the lawn (“For the first time, a beast in harness / . . . and I remember / How bitterly I went into the traces”), Bilgere’s poems are as direct and vivid as “listening to a friend’s voice over the phone late at night,” said John Freeman, reviewing the poet’s third collection, The Good Kiss, in The Denver Post.

U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins had the same experience reading the manuscript of The Good Kiss, which had been submitted to a competition he had agreed to judge: the University of Akron Poetry Prize. “He has the most engaging voice,” said Collins. “I didn’t want to stop listening to this voice. The Good Kiss is full of delights and surprises—connections that will widen your eyes—and sudden turns from the humorous into the serious that will throw you against the door. Such effects are the product of a poet who knows how to blend ingeniously the sentimental and the sarcastic . . . the trivial and the desperately serious.”

Collins awarded Bilgere the prize, which included publication by the University of Akron Press in 2002. He also recommended Bilgere for a prestigious Witter Bynner Fellowship, an honor granted only a handful of promising young writers (including Naomi Shihab Nye and Joshua Weiner) by the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. In April 2002 Bilgere, who was born in 1951, gave the first of two readings at the Library, followed by a joint reading with Collins in the spring of 2003 at one of New York’s premiere literary venues, the 92nd Street Y. He has also received writing grants from the Society of Midland Authors, the Fulbright Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

An associate professor of English since 1992 at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, George Bilgere (pronounced Bil-GAIR with a hard “g”) grew up in Riverside, California. Thanks to an inspiring teacher, Bilgere realized as an undergraduate at the University of California, Riverside, that poetry didn’t have to sound like Keats, but could be written in contemporary English. With The Good Kiss, he says, he finally discovered a voice that did not have to be “solemn”—the legacy of the great Howard Nemerov, with whom Bilgere studied at Washington University in St. Louis before earning a Ph.D. in contemporary British and American poetry at the University of Denver in 1988. He taught English on TV in Tokyo and spent a year in Bilbao, Spain, on a Fulbright before settling in Cleveland.

Dealing with the pain of a divorce, says George Bilgere, led him to use more “open” language. In the title poem of The Good Kiss an element of rueful humor enters his writing, when he discovers, by candlelight, that the “full moons” of a lover’s breasts are “not hers, exactly.” “Under each of them,” he writes, “was the saddest, / Tenderest little smile of a scar, / Like two sad smiles of apology. / I had them done so he wouldnt leave, / she said, But in the end he left anyway.

Bilgere’s poems have appeared in such distinguished journals as Poetry, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Sewanee Review, The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Chicago Review, New England Review and Prairie Schooner. His work has been included in a number of anthologies: Best American Poetry (1992 and 1999), American Prose and Poetry in the 20th Century (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and From Both Sides Now: An Anthology of Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath (Scribner, 1998).

His first collection, The Going (University of Missouri Press, 1995), won the Devins Award for an outstanding first book of poetry; his second, Big Bang (Copper Beech Press, 1999), was hailed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a moving “portrait of mature American manhood and its contradictions.” The Good Kiss was followed by Haywire (Utah State University Press, 2006), winner of the May Swenson Poetry Award, and The White Museum (Autumn House Press, 2009). One of the poems included in this fifth collection bore the curious title, “Graduates of Western Military.” Awarded the Pushcart Prize for the best poem published by a small press the previous year, it was about two men who were classmates at a military academy in Illinois in the 1930s. One was George’s father, the other Paul Tibbets, who would gain dubious immortality as the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

—Dennis Dooley



My mother stands in this black
And white arrangement of shadows
In the sunny backyard of her marriage,
Struggling to pin the white ghosts
Of her family on the line.
I watch from my blanket on the grass
As my mother’s blouses lift and billow,
Bursting with the day.
My father’s white work shirts
Wave their empty sleeves at me,
And my own little shirts and pants
Flap and exult like flags
In the immaculate light.

It is mid-century, and the future lies
Just beyond the white borders
Of this snapshot; soon the wind
Will get the better of her
And her marriage. Soon the future
I live in will break
Through those borders and make
A photograph of her—but

For now the shirts and blouses
Are joyous with her in the yard
As she stands with a wooden clothespin
In her mouth, struggling to keep
The bed sheets from blowing away.

The Good Kiss (University of Akron Press, 2002)



The boy’s been on the computer all morning
Playing virtual baseball, July
Sliding by in a huge yellow silence
Beyond the window as he clicks the keyboard

To send the phantom players running
The base paths under a virtual sky
In a nameless city’s digital summer.

Naturally, I brood about this as I work
In the garage at fixing his bike’s
Out-of-whack derailleur. In my day,
I find myself starting to say, before
My father’s fossil phrase
Catches in my craw

Better to speak with this tool in my hand,
This old-fashioned screwdriver,
Its Phillips head buried in the steel
Crux of the material world, the torque
Flowing from my old-fashioned wrist

So chain will rise from sprocket, and power
From a boy’s legs will carry him from home
And down the afternoon street to nowhere
In particular, or anywhere: places
I used to head for on a summer day.

The Good Kiss (University of Akron Press, 2002)

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •