“laughing softly at the beauty and intransigence of indescribable phenomena”
from “Touched”, by George Bilgere
I am recommending two new collections of poetry by regional authors. The first one, Playlist for the Apocalypse, is by Rita Dove. Dove grew up in Akron, Ohio, attended Miami University, and now lives and teaches in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has received a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was the first African American appointed as U.S. Poet Laureate. Published in 2021, Playlist is her eleventh book of poetry.
Dove’s subject matter is wide-ranging. From historical recollections and a tribute to Henry Martin, who was a bell-ringer at the University of Virginia and enslaved on the estate of Thomas Jefferson, to the chaotic and exciting potluck dinner she describes in her “Family Reunion” poem. Her arrangements are complex and playful, and want to be read out loud. One of my favorite poems in this collection was “Vacation”. In it, Dove captures the anticipation of passengers as they eagerly await their flight. She writes: “I love the hour before takeoff,/ that stretch of no time, no home/ but the gray vinyl seats linked like/ unfolding paper dolls.”
The second book of poetry I recommend, Central Air, was written by George Bilgere and published in 2022. Bilgere grew up in Riverside, California and teaches creative writing at John Carroll University. He has won a Pushcart Prize, among other awards and hosts the weekly radio program Wordplay on WJCU, which has been called “the Car Talk of poetry”.
In “Morning Berlin”, a young waitress at an outdoor café asks the poet what he is writing. He responds: “I am exploring the mystery of the human condition.” And it is what Bilgere does best. Whether dealing with lighthearted matter, where he daydreams of riding away on a red Vespa with Sophia Loren, or contemplating his father’s alcoholism and the aging process, Bilgere chronicles life from his point of view, often using personal experience as a launching point. A great example of his humor and sense of awe at the world comes in “Polar Bear”, a poem that poses the question: “Has anyone from Barstow, California been killed and partially eaten by a polar bear?”