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.

Audio archive of our conversation with George Bilgere.

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?

  1. you are not

    you are not a billy collins poem
    and though poems are about you
    i am not sure you are poetry

    in motion or otherwise

    you are not the surf or the surfboard
    you are the beach that the surf
    and surfboard run to, then run back

    you are clean sheets and candles
    with no overhead lighting
    and the romance that you ask
    to be brought with a bottle of wine

    you are not the great love
    you are barely the woman
    who ran away with the trumpet player
    which hopefully is a good story
    told every labor day

    you are not the woman with pearl earrings
    the woman descending the stairs or
    petroglyphs found in a cave

    you are barely a college essay on de kooning

    you are not the chartreuse or the femme fatal
    but you were the victim in my first two
    murder mysteries

    you are a woman with big breasts
    that never fit into a bathing suit
    not in that way that would make
    you a reality star

    you are long legs that needed massaged
    ego that demands to be stroke
    and lady parts that begged be worshiped

    you are not greed or joy or gluttony
    but possibly you are envy
    because who better to know
    what others have, but can’t have
    and to jump over the fence

    you are reason to leave toledo
    reason to write another poem about
    the definition of inadequacy
    the reason to spiral to rock bottom
    with self-doubt as a really bad parachute

    if billy collins was to write a sequel
    to his litany poem
    he would call me for nots on your id
    he would not e-mail me or through
    a bottle in the hudson

    did i mention how well you played the victim

    no mr. collins is a professor somewhere
    not thinking about me running off
    with one of his poems like it was
    a trumpet player at an arts festival

    you are the prescription found at the bottom
    of a duffle bag for a case of chlamydia
    a mysterious infection that points blame
    on someone

    of course you are
    great inspiration
    and one has to thank you for that

  2. Mr. Wakiki says:

    animal crackers

    you couldn’t pay me to do this
    but for free i can waste a day away
    coming up with image and lines

    between letters and e-mails

    working around the projects
    putting lights on the trailer
    drawing pictures and making
    envelopes and cards

    paying bills that sift through
    the mail

    making plans to ride my bike
    to camp a night at deer pond

    to live life and lust after you
    and recording it in bent thoughts

    snacking and hoping i can still
    lose weight

    responding to calls
    the occasional text
    more occasion from you

    dinner plans
    with friends

    thinking of cheesecake
    the dessert and the image
    of you in a skimpy maillot

    laundry and hanging out to dry

    and finding one more line
    that captures an image
    the seduction of you

  3. Mr. Wakiki says:

    bedroom pants

    i am guessing
    with sha

    you have bought
    the designs that
    cover your breasts
    with lace

    and your hips with
    clinging elastic

    that can twist
    with the excitement
    of candle light

    – – –

    i stop at this line
    . . . . twice

    with the sudden need
    to make my bed

    as if
    the potential was
    dripping wax
    onto the plate

    under the flame

  4. Mr. Wakiki says:

       languid beach attire

    there is a thought and perhaps
    a bit of perspiration

    check that
    it is a image and certainly
    some perspiration

    a breeze blows off the lake
    subtle and soft, just enough
    to make the hairs on my arms dance

    it is beautiful and sensual
    and i know you are on fire
    in the little hades of your belly
    where good loses to evil
    well the desire evil, not the institutional
    on fire evil

    and maybe that fire is a little lower
    so you are happy for the breeze and
    a dark one piece

    in my constructed conversation
    you have all the right responses
    tickled with a smirk

    and of course
    you will not have to cash a 2¢ check
    to know what i am thinking

  5. Mr. Wakiki says:

    pi corners

    slip into the circle
    of rapture

    the spiral of lust

    put on the lace
    that slips through my fingers
    like silica

    but dances like
    a sandpaper shuffle

    trip on the banana peel of lust
    that pratfalls at your knees

    ask yourself
    is your name an anagram
    for kindness

    is your tongue
    a homonym

    could you be a diphthong
    or some other trendy
    pair of panties

    with french curves
    on german tonsils

    edge into the portal
    that is just a portal

    an entrance into erin au jus
    with a buttery croissant

    that demands all the buns in france
    and the hay in nebraska

  6. Mr. Wakiki says:


    i went to the corner
    to this drug store
    i bought
    3 paint brushes
    2 rolls of masking tape
    a playboy
    some sand paper and
    a gallon of paint thinner
    the counter lady said
    “looks like you are going
    to do some work”
    I said
    “no, I just read
    the articles”
    i walked out the door
    and thought
    i would really be alone
    if it weren’t for
    my sense of humor

  7. Mr. Wakiki says:

    let me celebrate your legs

    long and smooth
    let me start on thursday
    and fall asleep in your lap
    on sunday

    i’ll take the week-end
    and forget the reasons
    i like you

    and learn your thighs
    and knees

    i’ll remove your nuances
    and the cause for my smile
    to rub your calves,
    hold your ankles

    exchanging your
    smirking outlook on life

    for entanglements of limbs

    i’ll ask you to please not
    speak or interrupt my admiration
    while i slide the knuckles
    on the back of my hands

    where you are out of mind

    where you could not
    be the woman i seek
    and your legs are long
    and smooth

  8. The link to Bilgere’s poem “Desire” brings up “A Widow’s Lament in Springtime” — you missed the Writer’s Almanac date by a week.