In his debut collection of poems, Begging for It, published by Four Way Books, Alex Dimitrov undresses American identity with honest vigor. Emigrating from Bulgaria to New York at a young age, Dimitrov celebrates his new city, sexuality, and culture with political, religious,and literary consciousness. The collection is gorgeously layered with references to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, James Franco, and Ginsberg as a salute to the masters and the muses. The poet indulges in youth, life, and the magnitudes of love; his public Tumblr is a catalog of poems, photographs of himself wearing sunglasses and high-heels as he smokes cigarettes and flaunts his long legs. Begging for It is a vivid painting of a new America, a celebration of self and country, as well as a neon self-portrait of a young writer.
Begging for It is divided into five parts, each depicting generous, deeply personal portions of Dimitrov. In Part I, poems partly deal with childhood and the act of starting over. The poet begins his collection with a description of his odyssey in “Leaving for America, May 1991.” In the poem, he describes his departure from a foreign country as gradual, natural, and then sudden: “And as the plane pulled away we tried sleeping / until mid-flight a stranger asked, / What time is it over there?” Since he was a child when his family left Eastern Europe, a place presumably void of opportunity and personal freedoms, he depicts his family as mid-flight, mid-travel, but also mid-identity. Dimitrov describes his new life as a lonely one; his father is always working and his mother seems to be living in the past to fill time in the present. In “The Underwear,” he discovers sexuality through the absence of his father: “At seven I hadn’t see my father naked / but found the outline of what held him. / I stared at the loose waistband that snapped / around his hips, cupped the pouch.” His mother walks in on him with his father’s underwear, his masculinity, draped over his face like a mask; she leaves, unwilling to confront what had just happened. And what had?
Part II, III, and IV are far more surreal; words describe sound, forgiveness, art, and sacrifice. New York becomes a ravaging city, as the boy from Part I grows and seeks love, sex, and cruelty. In “Sensualism,” Dimitrov writes, “A mosquito presses into my skin / with such cruelty I mistake it for love.” The poem explores the craving for wanting something intricately whole; this need intensifies and the speaker metaphorically allows the mosquito to use his body for fodder. He compares life to a film in pre-production. The poem “Bloodletting” explores the realness of violence and feeling; Dimitrov passionately argues that our actions possess viewership and consequences, and that we must allow ourselves to bleed, to let live: “If you can’t show red, why bother filming? / The scene where the boys undress / and color the river with sex / is useless, like bloodletting”. Part IV is where Dimitrov bares the most skin. He is incredibly self-aware in poems such as “Self Portrait Without Self,” “I Will Be Loving,” “I’m Lonely and I Love It,” and “Sleeping with Everyone”. In “Sleeping with Everyone” he writes, “But wait, that’s me! I should stop writing / personal poems. This is getting ridiculous.” Part V contains a single poem that generates much of its energy from Ginsberg’s “America” but instead of critiquing the imperfect land, Dimitrov mostly praises it loudly and unapologetically.
Dimitrov’s poems have a knack for tidiness. It is possible that he is a closeted neat-freak. His collection is very tight and concise, and it is obvious they have been pared, and polished down to what is truly essential. The poet avoids wordiness; his lines are short and disciplined. In one of his persona pieces, “Self-Portrait as Brigitte Bardot in Contempt” he writes, “In the theater of bitters / where we sharpen, / I am your favorite actress.” The lines punch quickly and deftly and they leave behind multitudes; the elegant lines, although short, still invite room for a variation in pacing and breath. Written in free verse, Dimitrov’s poems are organized mostly in blocks and couplets; his stanzas do not run wild, unlike his content. The juxtaposition of this simple form and the grittiness of his narration creates tension and allows readers to appreciate surprising line breaks, such as: “to hear my name change in the mouth / of another animal,” from “All Soul’s Day.”
Above all, the poet’s strength is in his one-liners and juxtapositions; they hit hard and fast. In his title poem, he mentions his father’s absence and violence through love and knowing: “Men you’ve lived with / and men you live on./ Whose scent will your knuckles keep?” He follows the last line with: “His jaw clenches because your blood mixes sweetly / with the flower under his tongue,” providing vivid imagery and the surprising marriage between blood and flowers.
Alex Dimitrov fiercely conquers territory that has been famously exposed in the past. Admittedly, gay poets have embraced their sexuality, critiqued their society, and begged for transformation. However, Begging for It clears the crowded throat and paves the way for a new generation. A generation filled to the brim with hope and an insatiable hunger for new life, as well as a desperate need for self-expression. Ultimately, Dimitrov’s book of poems is a substantial discovery of identity that explores the complexities of being alive in the twenty-first century. It is about consuming giant portions of love, lust, betrayal, and understanding. It is about oceans of the senses.