Tenth annual winner of the May Swenson Poetry Award, Haywire is a well-polished collection from a highly accomplished poet. With humor, compassion, and an unflinching eye, Bilgere explores the human condition in accessible lines and a magician's way with language. In images bright and dark, tangible and immanent, Bilgere brings us time after time to the inner reaches of a contemporary life. In subjects ranging from adolescent agony to the loss of parents to the comic pain of middle age, he finds no ...
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Haywire: Poems

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Tenth annual winner of the May Swenson Poetry Award, Haywire is a well-polished collection from a highly accomplished poet. With humor, compassion, and an unflinching eye, Bilgere explores the human condition in accessible lines and a magician's way with language. In images bright and dark, tangible and immanent, Bilgere brings us time after time to the inner reaches of a contemporary life. In subjects ranging from adolescent agony to the loss of parents to the comic pain of middle age, he finds no reason to turn away his gaze, and ultimately no reason not to define himself in joy

Haywire was chosen for the Swenson Award by poet Edward Field, winner of numerous awards and a personal friend of the late May Swenson. Field describes the book this way. "This poet, you knew from his very first lines, didn’t fall for anything phony—his own language is irresistibly no-bullshit down to earth, even sassy."
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
George Bilgere is a smooth-talking poet whose ease of language can lead us unawares into a complex terrain of the heart and spirit. Haywire is full of bittersweet poems that are balanced between humor and seriousness, between the sadness of loss and the joy of being alive to experience it.

Whenever a parade of Bilgere poems goes by, I’ll be there waving my little flag.

Billy Collins, formerly U.S. Poet Laureate

This poet, you knew from his very first lines, didn’t fall for anything phony—his own language is irresistibly no-bullshit down to earth, even sassy. . . . Coming from one of the ethnic, industrial cities, his work has a gritty element. He recalls all the sorrows of a life—the drunken father, the parents’ divorce, his mother’s death, his unremitting horniness, his own divorce—nothing special, just what we all have to deal with one way or another. And yet he ends on an almost contented note. Haywire is remarkable for being an essentially happy book, though with an ironic eye cast on such happiness while children are starving. And when he arrives at this, we’re glad for him.

Edward Field, Judge of the 2006 Swenson Award

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874215410
  • Publisher: Utah State University Press
  • Publication date: 9/26/2008
  • Series: Swenson Poetry Award
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 76
  • File size: 167 KB

Meet the Author

George Bilgere has published three earlier books of poetry, The Going, Big Bang, and The Good Kiss. The Going (1995) received the Devins Award, honoring an outstanding first book of poetry. In 2002, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins chose The Good Kiss as the winner of the University of Akron Poetry Prize, and also awarded Bilgere, along with Katya Kapovich, the 2002 Witter Bynner Fellowship. Bilgere’s poetry has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. He has received grants in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Ohio Arts Council and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. New work is forthcoming in Poetry, Field, Denver Quarterly, The Sewanee Review, and Southern Review. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where he teaches at John Carroll University.

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Read an Excerpt


By George Bilgere


Copyright © 2006 George Bilgere
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87421-647-9

Chapter One

ARIA Jussi Bjoerling, that soaring tenor, Was pulled down from the air. My father pulled off to the shoulder And closed his eyes. Nessun Dorma, It might have been, or Cielo e Mar. Hotter than Hades in the car But I knew enough by then To shut up. Even my sisters For once stopped their idiot fidgeting. Somewhere that summer, Bjoerling Was dying of booze. My father had lost a lung. No more Singing forever. Through the bridal veil Of a cigarette, my mother Stared hard down the highway, Waiting for it to be over. BIRDS You keep reading about them Vanishing. Or not vanishing, Exactly, but finding themselves unwelcome. This morning, for instance, I stood at the window with my coffee, Staring across the fields at the new development, And suddenly heard their silence From where the trees used to be. The ruined choirs. Not one black quarter note On the drooping measures of the wires. It was the sound of the new order, half Breeze in the power lines, Half ruckus of the highway, that garbage Disposal of our hunger. And then, To make matters worse, a dead bird Was waiting for me on the sidewalk As I walked to the CVS For some more Theraflu. It always amazes me, the way Birds seem to have practiced for this All their lives. Eyes pursed in concentration. Body cupped in a prayer of wings. The tiny grip of their claws On death's invisible branch. THIS SUMMER The big-dick rides have taken over the Coke-soaked acres of Great America.

Now your death-defying, one-hour wait is for Big Dude, or the Tower of Power, or even the Magnum XL 2000. Gone are the hokey thrills of yesteryear, The furtive, darkly vaginal ones, like the Haunted House, which was really the Tunnel of Love, which was actually the Haunted House. They were too slow. They took forever. THE BEAR The first thing I saw when I came to visit my friend in the hospice at the edge of town was an old woman holding a bear. She was in a wheelchair on the lawn, staring out at the lake. A heavy-set young Candy Striper was trying to administer some meds but the woman was nursing her bear and she wasn't about to stop. That's how life is. You enter into it from the darkness of your mother's womb and someone hands you a bear. You hold on for dear life through nightmares and a handful of peaceful years. Then comes a long period of cars and houses, gardening in the back yard of that nice bungalow in Des Moines you and Jim lived in after he got transferred, sex passing over you like a fever, gin and bridge on the porch in the summer evenings, a war, and suddenly someone you barely remember giving birth to one winter in Chicago, when all the pipes burst, or was it St. Louis, is driving you here on a spring afternoon, the birds singing, everybody apologizing, finally leaving you in a wheelchair out on the lawn, with nothing to do all day but love your little brown bear, who waited all this time for you to come home. THE SURGEON GENERAL The year he came out with his warning, like Luther nailing up his theses, my mother was frying us some salmon cakes for dinner, or maybe a little Spam, trying to stretch that dollar with hominy like white teeth from a can. Divorce felt like another country. Suddenly Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston on our kitchen floor. My sisters struggled with a Barbie. Through trees in the back yard Vietnam moved like bad weather. In the bathroom a wrinkled girl with a staple in her navel presided over my pale, original boners. 1964. Somewhere back in St. Louis lay my pale, original father. Let the niggers kill each other, said my mother unto the frying pan, lighting up yet another of the million Parliaments it took to kill her. THAT 'S A TAKE She's just finished mourning for us all the fact that spring is here above the buzz and clatter of this crowded café where I have stopped reading the paper because it's impolite to do anything while Ella Fitzgerald is singing. And in the pause that follows, I imagine her turning away from the bright, entranced face of the microphone, kidding with the sound technicians while putting on her hat and a pale green sweater before she steps out of the studio and into a spring day as it played out in 1951, the year I was born, stopping on the way home at a little deli to pick up something for supper, turning words like macaroni and potato salad into tiny American songs for the pimply kid behind the counter who thinks nothing of it, who has his own problems, who bears his own secret beauty through the world. SIMILE PRACTICE When I taught English as a Second Language the whole class sat down every night in the Adult Education Classroom and talked about the strange creature, the big, unruly language I offered them. English sound like plastic click together! said the Vietnamese girl in a voice like bits of breaking plastic. Like lot of cricket everywhere, said the weird kid from Korea, permanently wired to his Walkman. Sound like hit a dog with wood stick, suggested the businessman from Oman, who resembled a penguin in the three-piece suit he wore even in the St. Louis summer. Yuriko, who just wanted to please, said, I'm enjoy English, singing like nightingale, while our ill-tempered Italian, Mauricio, said simply, Sound like shit. And so it went, that wild animal looming around them, clicking like plastic, howling like a dog, singing like nightingale, sounding like shit, until one day it lifted its heavy, hairy bulk and shuffled out of the classroom, leaving the door wide open. And there, on the varied and ample plain, stood America, with its malls and soaring cities, its blue jeans and fast cars full of French fries and breast implants. And all my students were gone, for the strange beast they'd studied for so long had eaten them, each and every one. ONCE AGAIN I FAIL TO READ AN IMPORTANT NOVEL 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. HAPPY HOUR God created the world and then vanished into heaven, Slamming the door behind him. My father created the world, then went downtown to the old Coronado Hotel with a bottle of Jim Beam. God still gets angry from time to time, shaking things up, knocking things down, drowning and burning anyone who gets in his way. Then he'll just disappear for a month or two. My father would show up in the middle of the night, smash everything in the kitchen, curse creation, then head out on a three-day bender. Drop by any church nowadays and there's not a trace of God inside. Just an old man looking haunted. That's how St. Louis feels when I go back to visit. Big empty streets Daddy used to drive. The cauldron of our old house, a new family bubbling up inside. I can see my father and God in the now defunct Tack Room at the Chase. God hated my father. My father hated God. Shit-faced, they sit there smiling at each other. Running a tab. THE MASTODON AT THE CARNEGIE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM You ate lots of vegetation. You were very large. I love to think of you making love, perhaps because I'm drawn to big women. I imagine the dark planets of your eyeballs rolling in ecstacy above the Monongehela as a cock thick as my thigh delivered the news. Carnegie himself brought you here a hundred years ago. He loved doing things like that: I'm rich, I've brought you a mastodon! You'd see some major changes if you ever made it out of here. A black kid in a Steelers jersey clicks his camera-phone at you and speaks to the cusp of glowing plastic: Mastodon. Mass. Toe. Don.

JANITORIAL All morning he drifts the spacious lawns like a gleaner, picking up this and that, the summer clouds immense and building toward the afternoon, when the heat drives him under the shade of the oak trees in the quad and then along cool corridors inside to pull down last term's flyers for the chamber recital, the poetry reading, the lecture on the ethics of cloning, the dinner with some ambassador, the debate between Kant and Heidegger, the frat party, the sorority party, the kegger, the weekend Bergman festival, the Wednesday screening of Dumb and Dumber. He says hello to fine young ladies, and tries not to dwell on their halter tops, their tanned thighs, shorts up to here. At five he climbs into an old, dumpster-colored Olds, lights up and heads home across the barge-ridden river in its servitude to East St. Louis, where you know this poem-glib, well-meaning, trivial- grows tongue-tied, and cannot follow.

SAY MY NAME Beyonce's singing, and what's strange about that is, first of all, I somehow know who Beyonce is, and second, the voice I'm hearing is coming from the earbuds of an iPod plugged into a kid sitting about thirty feet from me on the fourth floor of the library on a humid summer night, the buzz of cicadas outside sounding weirdly like the buzz coming from his head-and third, I know exactly what he's reading, because I assigned it to him. It's the immortal Paradise Lost, by John Milton, and it's very long and very hard and it's a terrible thing to be reading late in the summer, time running short, life running out, the moon throbbing just above the trees and somewhere out there a woman is leaning against the fender of a car, waiting for you to shift her transmission into submission, and God knows I don't blame this kid for blowing out his ears at an early age, as Adam and Eve stand there stunned in the garden, stupidly covering their crotches, as if that would do any good, as if it would stop Beyonce, dark serpent, from reminding this nice Catholic boy in his brand new Tommy Hilfiger muscle shirt, with his fresh, 'round-the-biceps badass barbed wire tattoo, that in this fallen world he's never, never, evah gonna get his smooth white hands on what they burn for. PETROGLYPHS Somehow it pleases me to observe, in the perfect silence of the desert sunset, that he wasn't very good. There's really no sense of perspective, and the men and the deer he carved on this chunk of sandstone look pretty much as I would have drawn them back in third grade. I suspect that as he labored here at his stone canvas long ago he felt the same disappointment I used to experience as I sat facing the blank paper with my new set of watercolors, so bright and optimistic in their box. Everything seemed possible, every doorway to the future was wide open, until I made that first botched attempt, that first failed stroke. He probably went back to his little stone encampment and did something paleolithic like repairing a spearpoint, or helping his wife make dinner. He told her about his day, standing there in the hot sun with his sharp stone, trying to make an image of last summer's deer hunt. How the creatures looked ridiculous with their antlers like turkey wings, and the brave hunters with their spears ended up looking more like groundhogs beating the air with twigs. And that got the kids giggling, and pretty soon even his wife found herself unable to be angry with him for not bringing anything home to eat. Telling stories was something he'd always been good at. and that night as they lay together before the invention of the roof, and still a little bit before the invention of art, he told her about the deer and the bison, and the great starry hunter wheeling namelessly overhead. Then she rolled over and showed him a thing or two.

TOSCA My sister held on to our old turntable and all the old records we listened to through the long Italian opera of our childhood. So tonight we sit in the living room with some wine and Puccini, as the needle scratches the black door of the past, the air comes to life with that lovely, cornball melodrama, and our father is sitting in his chair, ice cubes clinking in his scotch, and our mother is in the kitchen trying to be quiet, trying not to disturb Maria Callas as she explains to Tito Gobbi that she has lived for art and she has lived for love, but it's hard to fry pork chops and dice an onion without making a certain amount of noise, and pretty soon my father is shouting at her, he's trying to listen to the goddamn music for Christ's sake, could she for once show some goddamn respect, and our mother says nothing, it's just the same old argument between ghosts, after all-the music won't let them sleep-although it has my sister in tears and even Tosca has begun to weep.

Chapter Two

VIKINGS There are always Vikings out there, a longboat on the scary edge of nowhere. Always a space capsule in the dark, Scott and Byrd in their frozen tents, Hilary with his Sherpa, cold men taking measurements. All of them heroic and very lonesome. All of them far from home. Because it's here. Where the rest of us are making iced tea. Watching The Jeffersons before fixing the screen door. Now and then one of us refuses to read the newest Harry Potter or stand all night in line for Star Wars. Or wear even one of this summer's disease- of-the-month rubberbands, quietly choosing our own road less traveled, our own tent on the tundra. Expecting no praise for this. Receiving none.


Excerpted from HAYWIRE by George Bilgere Copyright © 2006 by George Bilgere. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents Aria 7 Birds 8 This Summer 9 The Bear 10 The Surgeon General 12 That's a Take 13 Simile Practice 14 Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel 16 Happy Hour 17 The Mastodon at the Carnegie Natural History Museum 18 Janitorial 19 Say My Name 20 Petroglyphs 22 Tosca 24 Vikings 26 Miss December 27 Blood-Soaked Beat Turd 28 Retards 30 Good Humor 32 Haywire 33 Casablanca 34 Norelco 36 Unwise Purchases 38 View of the City of Delft 40 Anniversary 41 The Table 42 Chinese 44 She's Good 46 Waiting 48 Museum Piece 50 Olympics 51 Dark Side of the Moon 52 Going to Bed 53 Citizen Kane 54 Global Warming 55
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