Reviews of Velvet Rodeo

A number of reviews of Velvet Rodeo have appeared over the summer, so I thought I would collate some excerpts here. The reviews have been generous with their discussion of the book’s narrative and formal elements. I hope you like what you read and will consider buying a copy at this link to support Bloom Books. The print run is limited, so get yours before they sell out.

What Reviewers Are Saying about VELVET RODEO

“Since 2010, Bloom, the first-rate national LGBT literary magazine has been holding competitions to find the community’s most exceptional writers of poetry and prose. Velvet Rodeo, the chapbook by last year’s poetry winner, Kelly McQuain, is a gem, worthy of attention even from readers who typically don’t read poetry (Bloom Books. $8. Born in rural West Virginia, McQuain, now in his 40s and based in Philadelphia, beautifully reflects on the tension between the beloved natural landscape of his childhood and his need to escape those environs to express his own sexual nature in the standout opening piece, “Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers,” His cub scout troop’s day dressing up as Native Americans evolves into a personal experiment in drag amid the clever wordplay of “Brave.” The equally witty “Uncle” finds an adult McQuain fantasizing about a son when his estranged infertile married older brother asks if he’d be willing to make a sperm donation. These are indelibly tender snapshots of a gay life that straddles environments and eras.” –Jim Gladstone, “Travel Bound”, Passport Magazine, August 2014.


“Between a single dawn and dusk, I shadowed a speaker through adolescence and into adulthood, from young summers in West Virginia to liquored confessions in Mexico. Kelly McQuain’s Velvet Rodeo is a rare chapbook that spans such lengths—though, that is one of poetry’s potentials: every verse paragraph a vignette. And yet while McQuain’s poems are distinctively narrative, they are rife with imagery; from nature to anatomy, McQuain’s imagery evokes experience, from discovering one’s body to discovering parental fallibility. It is fitting then that Velvet Rodeo’s opening poem, “Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers,” begins spiraling outward, from pastoral aesthetics to something more existential….” — Matthew Girolami, Cleaver Magazine, July 2014. More at


“Coming of age, finding identity, negotiating family relationships; these themes are all here, explored through Kelly McQuain’s characteristic precise description and formal attentiveness…. [T]he collection is thoughtful and deep. The lyrical and narrative modes are wonderfully blended….” —Poems for the Writing, July 2014. More at


“Velvet Rodeo, by Philadelphia poet Kelly McQuain is clearly a winner. These are well-crafted poems with surprises, narrative twists, and a rich use of vocabulary. Several themes predominate in McQuain’s work. The most important is his origins: growing up in rural West Virginia…. [T]he strongest of all the poems in the collection, called “Creation Myth”… describes the early lives of both his father and mother. Extraordinary philosophical questions are thrown at the image of the mother: ‘How to separate the cosmic egg? Separate the raw from the cooked?’ Like his son, the father in the poem was also an artist, if on the fringes of the creative world. In an almost rhythmical ending the poet recognizes the enormous debt to his parents, knowing he can never repay them.”– Dan Evans, “Gay Presses: Alive and Thriving”, The Fire Island Tide, May 23, 2014.


Velvet Rodeo “engender[s] camaraderie among individuals who love lauding language and its possibilities.” — Joseph Myers, “Poetic License” Profile/Interview, South Philly Review, June 5, 2014.

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1 thought on “Reviews of Velvet Rodeo

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