Akron Series in Poetry
University of Akron Press ($13.95)
by Nicole Trokey
Bitterness. Nostalgia. Anger. Love. Humor. Wonder. Many poets have the ability to move smoothly from one of these emotions to the next within a single volume of poetry. But George Bilgere can do it within a single poem, and he demonstrates this talent repeatedly between the covers of his third collection, The Good Kiss. Covering subject matter that ranges from John Donne to LPs, marijuana to divorce, Bilgere presents the reader with not only a collection of poetry but also a collection of human experience and emotion.
In the collection's first poem, "Like Riding a Bicycle," Bilgere's shifting tones are hard at work. The poem begins "I would like to write a poem / About how my father taught me / To ride a bicycle on soft twilight" and continues through the first stanza to describe the scene. Every nostalgic, tender detail is there: the waning daylight, the proud father's hand on the boy's back, the son's tentative wobbles then steady pedaling as he takes off on his own. The tender moment is interrupted briefly by a reference to the speaker's divorce, but it continues on with the mood far from broken, only slightly interrupted.
However, when the poem moves into its second stanza, Bilgere backhands his reader with the line, "Of course, he was drunk that night," moving the poem into a new set of images that lets the reader know the first scene never happened. The father portrayed in this stanza has a breath "Sick with scotch," "sweat / Soaking his armpits," and a "cigarette flaring" in his mouth. Bilgere yanks the poem from the gentle first stanza and throws it fully clothed into the second, a shockingly cold pool of gritty imagery and harsh reality that transforms the poem from a fond remembrance to a fiercely conflicted one.
Yet Bilgere has one more emotional trick to play on the reader; the third stanza moves the poem into yet another mood, as the speaker revels in his current bike ride and the feelings of freedom it brings: "On my old bike, the gears clicking / Like years, the wind / Touching me for the first time, it seems, / In a very long time, / With a soft urgency all over." In "Like Riding a Bicycle," as in many of the poems in this collection, Bilgere moves the reader through a chain of emotions from beginning to end, emotions that may seem discordant yet somehow fit together perfectly within the poem.
But Bilgere's ability to string together multiple emotions and tones is perhaps best exemplified in "What I Want," which carries the epigraph, "for my marriage, 1996-2000." In this poem, the speaker presents the reader with a motley personal wish list. Items on the list range from such commonplace desires as "a good night's sleep" and "world peace" to more exotic dreams, such as the unearthing of a lost James Wright manuscript. The motivations behind these longings vary from the nostalgic, with dreams of returning to favorite memories, to the erotic, as in the speaker's fantasy visit from a colleague wearing sexy lingerie.
Mixed within these myriad desires are bursts of potent vengeance; every third or fourth item on the list seems to lead the speaker into a new twist of wicked, humorous, angry wishes involving his ex-wife. Some of these wishes are simple and straightforward—"I would like for my ex-wife to get leprosy"—while others develop unexpectedly out of the speaker's pleasant dreaming and blindside the reader with their punches of bitter humor. "An afternoon thunderstorm cooling off / The city as I sit listening to Ella / Sing 'Spring is Here,' so the air goes lyrical / And perhaps some stray bolt of lightning / Strikes my ex-wife as she steps from her car"--twists like these surprise the reader throughout "What I Want" and demonstrate Bilgere's remarkable ability to flawlessly weave together such variant tones.
Bilgere's poems deal with topics of everyday life, and human life is rarely mono-emotional. The poems in this collection demonstrate the shiftings and mixings of emotion that occur throughout all human experience. In The Good Kiss, it is through these emotional blendings that Bilgere creates depth within each poem and presents everyday human experience with a combination of punch and insight.
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