Alex Dimitrov is the author of Begging for It, published by Four Way Books. He is also the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. Dimitrov’s poems have been published in The Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Slate, Poetry Daily, Tin House, Boston Review, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize in 2011. He is also the author of American Boys, an e-chapbook published by Floating Wolf Quarterly in 2012. Dimitrov is the Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets, teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, and frequently writes for Poets & Writers.
Begging for Begging for It: A Review of Alex Dimtrov’s Debut Collection
by RJ Ingram
In his debut collection Begging for It, Alex Dimitrov paints himself into America, a self portrait. The flair and cosmopolitan fauna of young life (young love) stretches into Dimitrov’s poetry as a body reclining. Self and sensuality twist through Begging for It’s contemporary lyricism, and leading the reader is a honed eye, apt at finding the lush physical beauty of human expression, and a trained ear, ready to finesse sex and silence into the physique of love poetry.
As a subject throughout the book, Alex Dimitrov flirts with his readers by coming into his poems, if only to tease. “Woof, woof and a howl. / James Franco makes me growl,” Dimitrov-as-Dimitrov says towards the end of the first section. “Saint or stranger, I still recklessly seek you,” beckons Dimitrov to the reader, asking for intimacy and introspection. But the human condition is complex, and Begging for It loves that complexity. Lusts after it. In a mode of post-confessional narrative record keeping, Dimitrov tells us the story of immigrating to America:
The country we’d left for
still felt at war.
And we didn’t arrive even after the plane ride,
after the taxi, and in the new house
where for days we had nothing to say.
The narrative in “Leaving for America, May 1991” is not frequent, but it shows just enough to characterize Dimitrov as a poet dislocated spatially, but located physically. America, with his lush languages and sexy cities, becomes the subject of Dimitrov’s desire and the object of the reader’s affection. Think of Vladimir Nabokov’s passion for American English while writing Lolita. As an immigrant, Dimitrov is inherently othered by the culture, but he is able to turn this othering into a voyeurism. “I watched them live out my American youth,” Dimitrov says, and, elsewhere, “The terror wasn’t the pleasure– / more animal than another boy’s hands / pressing my face into the playground dirt.” The speaker’s masochism that comes from immigrating transcends the “American Dream” of the past into the contemporary. Movie stars and celebrities become role models to be lusted after in the new sensual territory of Dimitrov’s America. All is young, sexy, and worthwhile to go down on.
The men in Begging for It are cast as though cast for a group portrait of lustful disciples. Two of them face each other in the poems “In This Economy Even Businessmen Go Down,” and “Suit & Tie, 6’1, Married, Financial District.” In the first poem, The Stock Market is personified as a kind John to study “carefully while he uses your face / as a mirror, a screen.” The personification of The Market here, in the way of Susan Briante or Anne Waldman, doesn’t necessarily critique economics, but rather explore the potential sexuality via America’s own sexuality in a consumer economy. The reader is seduced by his size and omnipresence and “ruin he learned from his father.” The blur between self and other is appropriately deconstructed, and rebuilt simultaneously in fancy and friction. The married man in the facing poem asks the speaker to run away to Rome. “Yes,” Dimitrov answers, “The saints are all I need to steer me. / This scent of him held one breath longer—.” The tease between the man and the speaker has deviated significantly from the tease that occurs in the poem before. Now readers are asked to flee America, the object of Dimitrov’s lust. And as if aware of this flirtation, the speaker flicks a shallow response for the man and reader to sit with, rather unresolved, but in the same mode of the previous poem: “a check—another zero—and I’m yours.”
These two men (seemingly separate men) are only examples of the different men Dimitrov sleeps with in Begging for It. Their presence leaves imprints on the book like photographs. In a culture that might criticize promiscuity, Dimitrov-as-Dimitrov shows promiscuous experience to the reader in a way that cannot be judged:
Now that it’s over, let it move
through me like water.
Outside the birds keep flight
toward each the other,
a boy falls and his blood
brightens the snow.
Sex is an experience in Begging for It, a way of life. The boldness faces the reader, not for deconstruction, but as reality. Dimitrov’s voice, as bare and bold as it is, offers its reality unapologetically. But the truth of experience has blurred edges, and just as Dimitrov “can’t tell your hair—on the bed, / in my mouth—from my own,” the reader can’t help but notice the blurred edges between experience and lore. Fictional characters like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy and the mythological fates show up as well as historical characters like Brigitte Bardot, James Franco, and even Alex Dimitrov, whose cultural imprints fictionalize (or, perhaps, historicize) them. Culture by way of experience then redefines self in Begging for It as its characters continue to touch and redefine Dimitrov. In a few poems, Dimitrov uses these characters to touch and redefine himself. These “self portraits” draw authorship into question in a way that invites Dimitrov’s lyrical prowess:
In the space between his cufflink and wine glass
I tried to collect myself—
was it Paris, or perfume on my wrists?
Asked above in “Self-Portrait as Brett in The Sun Also Rises,” are questions not only surrounding an encounter, but also questions of identity. How has this encounter (source text) touched the speaker? Is identity a simultaneous expression of the present and every experience the self has had until that moment? The speaker in every poem evolves into a new identity. He starts as a young voyeur displaced in America, and becomes a lover, a raconteur, a passion, a flame, a child who “lost his only possession, / a balloon deflating through his ribs,” and a poet who chooses “to be touched / instead of touching down.”
Begging for It by Alex Dimitrov
Four Way Books