Poet George Bilgere, author of “The White Museum”
Our Poetry Month guest for Readers & Writers was George Bilgere, author of The White Museum, Haywire, The Good Kiss and other collections of poetry. Our conversation on Friday, April 26 focued on his recent collection The White Museum, winner of the Autumn House Press Poetry Prize.
Earlier collections have garnered Bilgere the May Swenson Poetry Prize and the University of Akron Poetry Prize. But he is probably best known to the public radio audience through his frequent (37 times) contributions to The Writer’s Almanac, through his 2011 appearance on A Prairie Home Companion, or through his own radio program Wordplay, an offbeat mix of poetry, comedy, and an ongoing exploration of the possibilities of the spoken word.
I was one of the many who discovered Bilgere through an episode of The Writer’s Almanac, hearing Garrison Keillor read his poem “Desire” last April. I printed out a copy and began to read it aloud to anyone who would listen, and shared it relentlessly with my long-suffering social network. George Bilgere is my kind of poet, plain-spoken, spare, and intelligible. His sharp wit is of a self-deprecating nature–wry but not cruel. And he can be just plain funny:
The slim, suntanned legs
of the woman in front of me in the checkout line
fill me with yearning
to provide her with health insurance
and a sporty little car with personalized plates.
A poem that makes me laugh out loud is a rare treat, but not a rare experience in reading this book. But this is not to say that Bilgere is merely comic. The poems of The White Museum evoke a full spectrum of emotion and experience and range from childhood recollection:
This from a time when folk still walked,
when the sidewalks were peopled
with travelers, when Fuller Brush men
and encyclopedia salesmen, and blind
sellers of brooms still walked the earth.
to the reflections of a middle-aged man at the counter:
she’s even forgotten the cream cheese
because I’ve reached the age
when I’m, like, totally invisible to her,
to the experience of loss:
When I came to my mother’s house
the day after she had died
it was already a museum or her
unfinished gestures. The mysteries
from the public library, due
in two weeks. The half-eaten square
of lasagna in the fridge.
George Bilgere, in The White Museum, presents a full-course meal. Laughter is just the dessert.
While you’re here, let us know what poetry you’re reading this month. Who do you recommend and why?