My Poem for the New Year

A Talisman of Possibilities

There was a sense of dread and impending doom I carried with me so many wasted days of 2014. Did you ever feel it, too? A balloon of dread tethered invisibly to my wrist, a skulking cloud that accompanied me like a shadow. Tonight is the night we hope to let go of such things. We put on our brave, expectant face for the New Year and hope to let old haunts fade. In Philly, the Mummers will be marching tomorrow down Broad Street. This year they’ll be turning east onto Washington Avenue, passing a stone’s throw from our door as they head to Two Street for the after-party. I don’t know if we’ll end up among them, or at a friend’s house. And I don’t know where I’ll be at the end of 2015, either. I just hope there is joy in the journey.

“Two Street, After the Parade”

The rattle of empties beneath your feet
is drowned by banjo strums and saxophone strains,
hoots and shouts, a glockenspiel’s refrain
of “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers”—a string band mumming
with a group of feathered Fancies
dancing in a riot of orange, purple and red. Alive,
this flash of sequins and Day-Glo parasols,
the bright grime of greasepaint that insulates skin
against the day’s cold drizzling plunge
into the coming night’s gloaming. All around you,
kids hoisted atop shoulders, sticky-fingered,
cotton candy glowing like blue beehive hair-dos bobbing above
the crush of paraders and spectators
all jostling so tightly onto narrow Two Street they merge.
Your breath specters the freezing air.
Today, you take your pleasure in random friends: an invitation
back to someone’s cousin’s house
for homemade meatball hoagies: the lot of you,
the lost of you, threading through tossed kettle corn,
bleating plastic horns, pink webs of Silly String
that knit people together only to come
instantly undone. Back slaps, laughter, a spilled beer
disaster narrowly averted by a frantic gulp.
Maybe next year there won’t be fistfights
at Thanksgiving. Maybe next year
no skipped visits come Christmas. Today, a New Year
pours like whiskey into all the unforgiven
pockets of the old—the lost chances, the missed-outs,
what never was—suddenly brushed aside
by an opening door, a welcome warmth, a stranger’s
unexpected joyful kiss hello:
a talisman of possibilities

–Kelly McQuain

A poem for a Philadelphia New Year, courtesy of The Fox Chase Review.

Photo by:


A Writer’s Thanks

May the Year 2015 Find You in a Peaceable Kingdom


Allegory Charles Prendergast (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1863–1948 Norwalk, Connecticut)

Family, friends and health take the top spots when it comes to giving thanks this time of season. Reflecting back, 2014 was a series of highs and lows, from celebrating weddings and publications with friends to experiencing the blistering reminders of how hard this country’s citizens often have it. The country’s grappling with racial and economic issues made for many an interesting conversation with family members and friends, and fed into the development of new teaching materials for my students as well as the occasional bit of political writing. I am lucky to teach students at Community College of Philadelphia, and I am often reminded throughout each semester of the hardships and hurdles they must overcome to achieve their dreams. I learn from them, too.

Somehow despite writing numerous poems and a few articles, I found time to start a new Facebook page on seasonal folk traditions, an interest of mine, and to catch up with friends in an old-fashioned Christmas Letter. I wrote new prose projects for The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Good Men Project, and Cleaver Magazine. As a poet, I was blessed with good reviews for Velvet Rodeo in Cleaver, Out in Print, MEAD Magazine, and the Philadelphia Review of Books blog by such wonderful writers as Jerry Wheeler, Kris Bigalk, Daniel Wallace and Suzanne Parker, and Matthew Girolami—and I thank them! I think there are even a couple others I am forgetting here (my apologies). These join a spate of early reviews from the summer. Thanks so much to all the reviewers who have shown support and made me see my little red book in new and different ways. These join a spate of early reviews from the summer.

As for poems, a handful have come out online lately. You can read “Architect” from the journal Codex. Two other new poems appear in the fall issue of The Fox Chase Review, “Ritual” and “Two Street, After the Parade”. The first is set in my home state of West Virginia and based on a true incident concerning a bat. The second is offered up as a love letter to Philadelphia and the holidays, especially the annual Mummer’s Parade on New Year’s Day and the after-party that occurs on 2nd Street.

It’s nice to share good news like this to offset the many lulls and lows we inevitably go through as writers. As I was working on this entry, another rejection popped in my mail queue. I choose to take that as proof that you need to keep writing and to believe in yourself. So believe in yourself!

Finally, a big shout out to editor Charles Flowers for shepherding Velvet Rodeo into print and to poet C. Dale Young for selecting it. Most of all, I thank John for continuing to put up with me for another year. And I thank you, for reading my words from time to time.

#Cleaver #Mead #GoodMenProject

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Rainbow Awards/Elisa Reviews: Picks of the Year

Recently Elisa Reviews (who sponsors the Rainbow Awards) asked my opinion on a best book for 2014.

My GLBTQ reading pick of the year is editor Douglas Ray’s The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South, published by Sibling Rivalry Press out of Arkansas. Full disclaimer: I have two poems in the collection. But don’t read it for me; the work overall is a fine mix of poetry and provocative essays from stellar authors (Dorothy Allison, Matthew Hittinger, D. Gilson, Jeff Mann, Valerie Wetlaufer, and more) who question what it is to be a southerner in the 21st century. It’s a must-read for anyone who was raised there or lives there, especially if he or she is still coming to terms with the joys and strictures of a southern past.

Kelly McQuain‘s Velvet Rodeo won the Bloom chapbook award. His writing on the Elf on the Shelf controversy recently appeared at the Good Men Project.



Today Cleaver Magazine shared a story I helped get out into the world via WikiLeaks. It is a story of our troubled times. It is a story of troubled Christmas. Save the children. God bless us, everyone!

Editors' Blog!

A Holiday Special

by Kelly McQuain

First, I would like to thank Mr. Julian Assange for giving me the opportunity to make these crimes public. I would also like to affirm that this is not my story alone. I, Snickerdoodle Snowcone, speak not only for myself, but on behalf of every other elf ever forced into espionage by the egomaniacal despot the world so endearingly refers to as Santa Claus.

Yes, we have been spying on you, boys and girls, at the strong-armed behest of our big red Boss. That’s what he likes to be called–The Boss–like he’s some sort of mafioso heavyweight instead of an aging toy peddler suffering from severe obesity and a bad case of the sugars.

Jolly? Not so much anymore. The hand tools The Boss once taught us elves to use now gather dust in…

View original post 1,047 more words

Rethinking Your Hatred of The Elf on the Shelf

The kind editors at The Good Men Project published my essay on their website just in time for the Christmas countdown. Here’s a teaser: The Elf on the Shelf: Indoctrination into a culture of surveillance, or just another iteration of a longstanding–and sometimes unsettling–morality play that’s always been part of Christmas folklore traditons? You read it and be the judge, and then come back and leave a comment below.

Rethinking Your Hatred of the Elf on the Shelf: Christmas Has a Long Tradition of Being a Little Creepy
Click here:


“Truth be told, I believe kids are in on the joke. Any parent who has woken up having forgotten to move Snickerdoodle the night before can attest to the complicity of their children in explaining away the mistake. Kids want to keep the game alive. They know on some level it’s their parents who are actually watching them, yet they nevertheless delight in the morality play of it all. By externalizing an imaginary critic who assesses their behavior, children are in fact developing a necessary faculty that helps them form judgements about the consequences of their actions.”

Velvet Rodeo scores with Rainbow Awards judges

This week I learned Velvet Rodeo did very well in the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, winning 2nd place in the Best LGBT Poetry category and 5th in the much larger overall Best Gay Book Award competition–the only poetry book to make that list, I believe. More than 520 books were in play this year in various categories, with almost 170 judges from all over the world. The fact that a small book of poetry did so well in a mixed-genre competition especially comes as a nice surprise to me.


Elisa Reviews sponsors the awards as a fundraising event for LGBT charities. The pic below contains some of the judges’ comments, and a pic of the overall winning book by Benjamin Law. Congratulations to the winners and runners-up.

Rainbow Book Awards
1. Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law
Runners Up:
2. The Mating of Michael by Eli Easton
3. Perfect Imperfections by Cardeno C. Author
4. Silent by Sara Alva
5. Velvet Rodeo by Kelly McQuain
6. Think of England by KJ Charles
7. (tie)
a. Last First Kiss by Diane Adams
b. Takedown by Cat Grant
8. Beards, an Unshaved History by Kevin Clarke
9. Corruption by Eden Winters
10. Cub by Jeff Mann

Best LGBT Poetry
1. Hibernation and Other Poems by Bear Bards, an anthology by Ron J. Suresha
Runners Up:
2. Velvet Rodeo by Kelly McQuain
3. Souvenir Boys by David-Matthew Barnes

A complete list of winners in all the many categories is at

Rainbow Awards Judges’ Comments:
Velvet Rodeo by Kelly McQuain
Publisher: Bloom Books

“A master at imagery. Beautiful work.”

“An intricately structured set of images and perceptions laid forth in sensual, evocative language. Gorgeous.”

“An enthralling, engrossing collection of poems that will involve its reader on many levels of interest.”

#phillypoetry #poetry #LGBTQ #philadelphiapoets #rainbowawards



Seven Ways to Solve Police Abuse of Black Americans

Until There Is a True Accounting, There Can Be No Accountability

#blacklivesmatter #HandsUpDontShoot #icantbreathe

An incredible lack of oversight exists in the way this country polices itself. And it affects all lives–black, white, asian, you name it. Yes, resisting arrest is unlawful, but how do you trust a police system to arrest you and keep you safe while in custody when your faith in that force is nonexistent? How do you teach your child “do not resist arrest” when you fear your child will be abused or killed while in police custody? The system is broken. Here are a few ways the country can fix it:

1. On a national level, we need a consistent way of reporting the deaths that occur at the hands of the police, whether they are through shootings or deaths while in police custody. The FBI tracks some of these statistics, but the ways in which municipalities report them are so inconsistent as to be meaningless. The US has more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies, but the FBI receives self-reported data from only a small percentage. We need one national standardized system so we can better measure and assess police effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and whether necessary force or excessive force was used. Until there is a true accounting, there can be no accountability.

2. Transparency in statistical reporting needs to carry over to transparency in grand jury decisions. There is no compelling reason why the decision process of the Eric Garner NYC grand jury should remain under wraps. Nor is there a compelling reason for the grand jury decision to be veiled in Wisconsin, where a man with Down Syndrome died in police custody. A truly just system is capable of withstanding public scrutiny.

3. We need to rethink the role of the police and improve their education. Officers need to be better trained in conflict resolution and intercultural communication in order to de-escalate tense situations and deal with people who many not understand them due to language barriers, hearing loss, or mental illness. Conflict resolution without the loss of life should be the main goal. Officers need to warn arrestees that force will be used if they resist arrest (which did not happen in the Eric Garner case), and officers need to be aware that arrestees are likely scared and may not be able to fully understand directions (as in the case of an elderly white man who was nearly deaf). When officers arrest someone, they hold that person’s life in their hands and should be responsible for it. To protect and serve doesn’t mean to put someone in an illegal chokehold that kills him. Police have to learn to defuse situations more effectively, not escalate them. ( I do not believe that a police officer wakes up in the morning with a gleeful inclination to kill someone. I do, however, think that bullies sometimes make their way onto the police force alongside well-intentioned women and men. I also think the training officers get is insufficient preparation for protecting public safety, and in many situations, as we have seen, they–the officers–become the real danger to safety.

4. One of the best ways to regain community trust is this way: Any death while in police custody needs to be investigated by an outside review board that includes citizens, not by the police themselves. It makes no sense for the police to have the authority to be able to clear themselves of wrongdoing when someone in their care dies. (For information on how this change is occurring in Wisconsin, read the story of a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force whose son was shot in the head by police:

5. Accountability through technology. When we provide our police with military surplus, we send a message to officers that we want them to act more like Rambo rather than like someone whose job is to protect a community (and earn the trust of the community in the process). Let’s stop sending this message. One potential way of earning community trust and keeping officers honest is the officer-cam program being piloted in Philadelphia and other cities. Officers wear cameras that keep them accountable. This is a step in the right direction, but in some cases these cameras have been known to “malfunction” at times when officers have resorted to deadly force. Convenient, huh? Again, independent review should be used to investigate such officers. The police should not be the ones doing those investigations.

6. White people out there, now I am talking specifically to you. Stop drawing attention away from the important issue. Stop saying stupid bullshit like “blacks are their own worst enemy” or “the rioting in Ferguson makes it acceptable that blacks are viewed more suspiciously by law enforcement because blacks don’t give white folks nearly enough examples of good behavior to think otherwise of them.” Statements like these simply show your bias and the unfortunate fact that you’re not even aware of the privilege you take for granted. If you’ve ever said anything like this–or if you have said nothing at all–you need to look at the world through different eyes. A black person could make the same complaint against white people: That white people riot over stupid things like the Super Bowl and the World Series, that white people repeatedly give the black community reason after reason to think the worst of them. Whites do that by hassling blacks with stop and frisk policies, by racially profiling them, by redlining their neighborhoods, by underfunding their schools so that their children are less academically prepared–all of which adds up to a system that denies black Americans the same access to upward mobility that most white Americans have. You say blacks need to change the way they are racially perceived by whites? Well, blacks can can just as easily say it needs to start with whites working to change how they are racially perceived by black people. It’s a two-way street, baby. Own your bias and replace it with empathy that might actually create positive change. And guess what, white America? If you help stop the abuse of black Americans by the police you will also help stop the police abuse that gets perpetrated on white people, too.

7. We need to see these changes and we need to see them now. We need national leadership to make this happen. Obama needs to create a national reporting structure for deaths associated with the police and he needs to work to create a system of citizen review. Until we live in a society where our police force serves and protects its citizens–and NOT the interests of a power structure designed to perpetuate massive economic disparity through a corrupt capitalistic system–until then, I say march, goddamn it, demonstrate, goddamn it, do what it takes to keep you and yours safe. This should include going out and voting for politicians who will make our police force accountable. To protect and serve needs to actually mean something.

–Kelly McQuain

For more on the need for a true accounting of police-related deaths, read the following. Here’s a teaser: “No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.”

UPDATE, Dec. 18, 2014: Since posting this blog, Congress has dusted off an old piece of legislation requiring national reporting of police-related deaths, which the had de-funded years ago. It’s only a first step. And I doubt it would have happened without all the protesters out there. Your actions can–and do–work, so don’t give up the fight. –KM


[The artist of the painting above is Patrick Campbell. Please follow his FB page at:

#EricGarner #ferguson #policeabuse #fatalencounters

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Philadelphia’s Krampuslauf: A Parade of Spirits!

#krampus #krampuslauf #stnicholas #PhillyKrampus

For many Europeans, the first week of December is when the holidays truly begin. Today is Dec. 6th, St. NIcholas’s Feast Day in many Catholic and Christian traditions. You probably know St. Nicholas is the saint who inspired Santa Claus–but who is Krampus, you ask? He’s a character from European folklore who accompanies St. Nicholas on Dec. 5th, the night before St. Nicholas’s Feast Day. Sort of a bad cop to St. Nick’s good cop. You can see him in old postcards (greeting cards called Krampuskarten) from Germany and the Swiss Alpine region, where the character can be found frightening bad children the first week of December. Today’s celebrations include parades of schnapps-swilling men in horrific beastly costumes and hordes of partiers snapping pictures on their iPhones. In some countries, the version of the character is accompanied by an angel and a saintly man wearing a mitre hat, as in the pic here.
This was taken on my trip to Prague in 2010, where their version of Krampus is known as Čert, or simply “the devil”. He’s far more tame than his kinsmen in the Alps. Y20141114-204507-74707933.jpgou even find him on candy wrappers and puppets there–the Czechs love their puppets!

On Dec. 5th, if you wander through the twinkling lights of Old Town Square–or any other busy throughway in Prague–you are bound to see a strange triumvirate: St. Nicholas (Mikuláš), the Angel (Anděl) who represents Good, and the Devil (Čert) representing Evil, naturally. The devil, or Krampus as he’s known more widely throughout Europe, is often depicted in chains to symbolize Christianity’s conquering of evil (evil generally symbolized as the “other”: various pagan tribes, the Moors–you can take your pick. The Catholic Church has a long history of putting a scary face on anything it sees as “the other”). In fact, the image of a wild, demon-man figure is iterated again and again throughout European folklore, albeit with local variations. For example, here in Pennsylvania, the Amish have a wildman called Belsnickel who is used to frighten children at the holidays (Dwight played him hilariously on The Office TV show a few years ago). I’m convinced these figures share a common source, are manifestations of the same archetype.

In the Czech Republic, these three characters–the angel, the devil and the saint–parade the streets, stopping children and asking the20141114-213823-77903477.jpgm if they were good in the past year. Kids sing a song or recite a short poem and are rewarded with sweets handed out by the angel. As in the Krampus legend, bad kids are to be whipped with birch twigs, put in a sack and carried off to hell. (Don’t worry. That doesn’t happen anymore. Mostly.) I’ve not made it to Germany to meet the actual Krampus, but I feel I’ve gotten to know him a little thanks to his Czech cousin.

Here in Philadelphia, a city that loves to party, to dress up in costumes at Halloween and at New Year’s, the Krampus tradition has been adopted in a celebration of Old World folklore held in Northern Liberties.

Philly’s fourth Krampus parade, or Krampuslauf (Krampus run) is next Saturday. Come for the seasonal food, bonfires, fire dancers, wild costumes, and even wilder Alpine traditions. Bring your cowbells and jingle bells and make some noise. Dress as an angel, St. Nicholas, or your favorite holiday character and get in on the grassroots parade, which is specifically designed to be family-friendly–ie, not too scary. A food truck will be on hand with seasonally themed delicacies. And, of course, Krampus will be there. It’a called the Krampuslauf Parade of Spirits after all, and it will be held at Liberty Lands park at dusk (4:30) on Sat. Dec. 13th, 2014 in Philadelphia. 1494848880779514/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Philly also has a Santa Claus bar crawl, and–occassionally–a Krampus bar krawl. City Hall is home to a new ice skating rink at Dilworth Plaza, and LOVE Park is home to a holiday village featuring sellers of traditional Christmas ornaments and other handcrafted items. A Dickens Christmas Village draws crowds to Macy’s in Center City, and local choirs and churches have plenty of concerts and services in observance of Christmas. Pay the city a visit! And if you know of other fun holiday traditions in the city, add a comment below.


Moonstone Poetry Holiday Party, Dec. 14th

Get into the holiday spirit with poetry! Moonstone is hosting a holiday potluck and reading to celebrate the release of their new anthology of poets who have read over the past year. I plan to read some holiday-themed work.


Moonstone writes:
Book Launch and Holiday Party – Sunday December 14, 2014
The party will be at Brandywine Workshop (728 S. Broad Street) December 14, 2014 starting at 1PM.
· This will be a book release, mass reading party – similar to Poetry Ink but limited to poets who have been featured at Moonstone readings
· Holiday Party – Bring something good to eat to share
· This will be a terrific holiday gift for poetry lovers
· A terrific anthology for creative writing and poetry classes since most of the poets are from the Philadelphia area and they can be heard at readings around the city.


For more about the Moonstone Reading Series, which happens each Wednesday in Philadelphia, contact here:
Moonstone Arts Center
110A S. 13th Street, Philadelphia PA 19107, 215-735-9600
larry [at]