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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Book review: First Chill: A Collection of Poetry by Brian E. Bengston

With “First Chill,” Nebraskan poet Brian E. Bengston establishes himself as a unique and passionate voice for Omaho, gay men, anyone facing HIV, and anyone who ever felt loneliness or longing. He celebrates all those people and more in this diverse volume, separated into five distinct sections.

“I. NEBRASKA” begins the book with images of Bengston’s state and its people. These poems mix physical details like streets, buildings, or nature with internal longings.

“II. Names” reveals Bengston’s ability to empathize with others and listen to their dreams. The people differ as much as the forms his poems take.

“III. T-Cells” reveals Bengston’s personal struggle with HIV, as well as with HIV medications. It also reveals courage, hope, and frustration. This section includes my favorite poem in the entire book, “Standing at the Edge of the Quilt.” That poem involves the AIDS quilt.

“IV. Letters” includes poems that literally sound like letters. The recipients vary from Bengston’s family members to an author of graphic novels.

“V. First Chill” features the most erotic and emotional poems of this collection. Even more than in the other sections, Bengston keeps the readers off guard and can change the feel of an entire poem with the last line or two. This section provides a satisfying conclusion to a book that I would suggest for poetry lovers everywhere.