By George Bilgere
(Utah State University Press, $11.95)

The poems in George Bilgere’s latest book smile but show their sharp incisors. Affably presented, their theme is loss and our adjustments to it, like those hapless old folks in the title poem: “and even though nothing / made sense to them anymore, / they’d gotten used to it.” Music often accompanies these scenes. In “Aria” and “Tosca,” Bilgere’s parents keep their icy distance as he and his sisters suffer “through the long Italian opera / of our childhood.” And in “Retards,” after a screaming “duet” with his ex-wife, Bilgere understands “that forevermore / all beautiful songs to me / will have their counterpoint of insanity, / that reminder that the world out there / is damaged beyond recovery.” By the end, that tone has been tempered. In “Global Warming,” Bilgere, watching the news in a Cleveland bar, considers how “safe” he is “in a dying city at the end of the world / where, despite everything, / we’re all reasonably happy.” If the world has lost its balance, these poems haven’t. With offhand wit and grace and authority, Bilgere has mastered the kind of poem that includes just enough edge to unsettle its own smooth charm.

Process in Art: Accumulation and Transition
The Cleveland Foundation

Paper towels, bottle caps and plastic fasteners may not be typical art materials. But in The Cleveland Foundation’s free exhibit on display at its Hanna Building offices downtown through May 31, students from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University accomplish a feeling of change with these everyday products. Explosions of mixed media pull the viewer into moments of transition with vivid color and intriguing design through collages, sculptures and photographs. Nicholas Moenich’s “There will be no jump into hyperspace” (above) bursts with bright green magazine clippings, masking tape and oils that hastily converge in the center and a simple phrase, “it’s already too late,” adding a bit more mystery to the work. Photos of Cleveland’s empty streets in the dead of morning contrast with Ryan Pattison’s high-energy shots of them at night from a camera mounted to his dashboard. This exhibit takes perplexity and gives it stability. The art captures transition and accumulation, showing us that our clutter can be constructed into something greater.   

Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish
By Joe Mackall
(Beacon, $24.95)

Joe Mackall’s neighbors, the Shetlers, are Amish. Swartzentruber Amish — the most conservative in the world. Mackall, an Ashland University professor and former Cleveland Magazine editor, explores what it means to be a neighbor through the Shetler family. He is there when the Shetlers’ nephew leaves the Amish, when an insurance company plans to seize their farm, and when their oldest child dies at age 9. Along the way, we’re awakened to how the Swartzentruber Amish live their everyday lives and what their reasons are for living without indoor plumbing, central heating or even refusing to secure a slow-moving vehicle sign to the backs of their buggies. (The sign is brightly colored, and like everything else they won’t use, it is too “of the world.”) Mackall does the job beautifully, painting an intimate portrait of the family that leaves the reader feeling humbled by the common thread that’s woven into all of us.  

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