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Bilgere Utilizes Humor

Poetry lovers enjoyed a delightful reading by George Bilgere at the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday.

He offered selections from his work and discussed the art of writing for the Wheeling Poetry Series at Lunch With Books.

West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, host for the Wheeling Poetry Series, introduced Bilgere, who resides in Cleveland Heights and teaches creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland. Harshman said it was a true honor to welcome Bilgere for his first visit to Wheeling.

Bilgere, who has published six collections of poetry, has been called “America’s greatest living poet.” While some observers might regard that description as hyperbolic, it’s indisputable that he is indeed a fine poet.

Revered poet Billy Collins has described Bilgere as “a welcome breath of fresh American air.” Bilgere’s approach and his cadence bear a resemblance to Collins’ work, but he is an original poet with his own distinctive voice.

Bilgere incorporates humor in his poems, combining wry observations with poignant reflections on the circumstances of modern life.

The poet appeared “a handful of times” on Garrison Keillor’s former public radio show, “Prairie Home Companion.” Working with Keillor was “a supreme thrill of my life,” he remarked. Approached to write poems for a greeting card company, Bilgere decided to create a series of transplantation-related cards — “one for each organ that could be replaced.” After submitting his test poems, he received a rejection letter in a “frosty” tone from the company. “There went my chance for wealth,” he quipped.

Bilgere read a playful poem, “Genius,” inspired by his fleeting thought that a letter from the MacArthur Foundation would be notification of receiving the organization’s “genius grant.” To his chagrin, the letter actually was an invitation to nominate someone else for “genius” status.

Displaying self-deprecating humor, the poet said he dyed his graying hair once and wrote a poem, “Grecian Temples,” about the experience. Calling himself “the world’s oldest pretty-new dad,” Bilgere also read poems about his two young sons.

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Maria Sticco, who retired recently from the University of Pittsburgh Press, had a special reason to be in the audience for Bilgere’s presentation at the library.

Sticco, who has returned to her hometown of Weirton, served as the publicist for the poet’s two most recent collections, which were issued by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

She and Bilgere corresponded electronically during that process, but had not met in person until Tuesday.

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Area readers still have time to vote for the selection for “Wheeling Reads: One Book, One Community.” An electronic ballot, featuring five nominees, can be found on the Ohio County Public Library’s website.

Wheeling’s chosen book will be announced on Friday, which is National Author’s Day. A community discussion will take place at the Upper Ohio Valley Festival of Books on Nov. 7, 2020.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net

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