Dimitrov, Alex. Begging for It. New York, NY: Four Way Books, 2013. 96 pp. $15.95

Reviewed by Stephen Zerance

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The image that adorns the cover of Alex Dimitrov’s Begging for It—a photograph from “Rimbaud in New York,” one of David Wojnarowicz’s first major series of works—is an interesting introduction to this first collection of poems. It asserts that the reader will shortly be living through Dimitrov’s saison en Enfer of sorts—the sadness of the outsider in a new society (Dimitrov having emigrated from Bulgaria to New York City), but the cover also suggests that this text will be a melange of politics and queerness.

However, a number of readers have criticized this cover image. Ted Rees, in a much discussed Tumblr rant against this cover and Dimitrov, called the cover a choice that “speaks to a self-importance wrapped in ignorance at best, and a type of colonialism at its worst.” Rees also cites the collection’s title ( Begging for It ) as a mocking of AIDS sufferers—somehow alluding that gay men were asking for the crisis.

“It’s my book,” Dimitrov says in defense of the choice and in response to the controversy in a new interview with Rauan Klassnik of HTML Giant. Maybe the naysayers are reading a bit too deeply into the title and the image given that this is a writer whose official website reads like an American Apparel advertisement with poems. This is a collection that doesn’t take itself seriously in parts: There’s an ode to James Franco, portraits as Bridgitte Bardot or Daisy from The Great Gatsby, a prayer to Oscar Wilde in the acknowledgments, and a poem, “This Is Not a Personal Poem,” in which the author name checks himself in the final line.  Detractors just might need to get a sense of humor, because there is fine material in the book.

The light-hearted nature of these poems is needed since Dimitrov is preoccupied with blood in this collection. There is an element of violence to the early sections of the book, beginning with the opening poem “Heartland,” which impels the reader to, “Let the blood wet the ashes,/ let the semen wet the mouth” (3).

“If you can’t show red, why bother filming” he writes in “Bloodletting” (25). Great line. The poems that make up this debut resemble neat, tidy drops of blood—the heart of the poem contained in only the most essential of words. Dimitrov is tidy, but he doesn’t bother filming. In “21st Century Lover” the speaker ruminates:

It’s a miracle we keep living.
The sex we want most will kill us,
another war glitters on the horizon— (60)

The danger of sex is high and inhabits these poems about life in New York city.  The men in Begging for It are anonymous, yet endearing. “Someone on the internet tells me, ‘If we ever meet, I will lovingly degrade you’” (61). Those lines in “I Will Be Loving,” morph into a promise to the reader: “For you, I will be loving.” The tongue-in-cheek sentiment within the book is best captured in poems such as “Sleeping With Everyone,” in which the speaker states:

In New York no one will do a favor
unless you sleep with them
and then you may have to sleep with them
again. And again after that. (63)

The book finds its center in the title poem, realizing the first section that deals with the father in some moments like the standout father-son confessional “The Underwear.”  The poem is uncomfortable and powerful, and makes the best use of Dimitrov’s economy of detail: “It was the moment she came in, looked/ away, and like a good mother,/ asked me to wash my hands before dinner” (9). Any more detail, and this poem would not be as effective; though not all of these concise, maybe anorexic, poems are. The poem “In This Economy Even Businessmen Go Down” does not quite live up to the promise of the title. It ends, “leaving a wife and two kids, the crash at the office,/ for a boy with your kind of eyes” after six lines. The poem leaves you begging for something.

This brings us to the eponymous “Begging for It,” which encompasses the theme of the collection and joins it with the transformation of the speaker into adulthood:

He crosses the dead avenue,
walks towards you, and loosens his ring

the way you imagine your father once did
on some night he still hasn’t returned from.

Men you’ve lived with
and men you live on.
Whose scent will your knuckles keep? (33)

This provocative question Dimitrov’s collection attempts to answer. The scents in the poems are memories, often split-second thoughts. The work is a search through a city famously traveled, but now with new tradition in the vein of Ginsberg, Mark Doty, and James Merrill. In Begging for It, Dimitrov is a poet evolving, choosing “to be touched instead of touching down,” and with a scent all his own.

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Stephen ZeranceSTEPHEN ZERANCE is a recent MFA graduate of American University. His writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Assaracus, Bloom, Knockout, Gertrude, Chelsea Station, Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, and Glitterwolf Magazine. His poetry has been featured on websites such as Lambda Literary Review and Split This Rock. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.