Some good news! My first full-length poetry collection has been accepted by Texas Review Press (see the first link in the comments). My book was chosen for their Southern Breakthrough Series, a contest that seeks new works from a different southern state each year. My collection, titled Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers, was chosen to represent WV, my home state. The title refers to something bucks do to harden their antlers in anticipation of the fighting come mating season. This is my first full-length book, a longstanding dream of mine! The book will debut in February 2023. My thanks to TRP, all the editors who first published these poems, and especially the editors at Kestrel, A Journal of Literature and Art, where the title poem first appeared (thanks Donna Long, @Elizabeth Savage, Suzanne Heagy). #poetry
I am long overdue in sharing this good writers news: My chapbook, Antlers, was selected by #SevenKitchensPress for their Editor’s Series. Much thanks to editor Ron Mohring for his hard work on this project. The chapbooks are painstakingly crafted and stitched by hand in a very limited quantity. More writing news is coming soon! Details on how to order the chapbook are here: https://sevenkitchenspress.com/2022/01/29/kelly-mcquain-antler-editors-series/
Antlers. $9.00 – ISBN 978-1-949333-87-9
This chapbook joings my previous chapbook, Velvet Rodeo, which is available through Bloom Books here: http://bloomliteraryjournal.org/shop/velvet-rodeo/
Nov. 15, 2019
My art project on Walt Whitman, “A Whitman Sampler” is now on display at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s exhibition, Voyages by Road and Sea: Philadelphia Perspectives on Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. The artwork is now installed in the West Gallery at the Parkway Central Library, Free Library of Philadelphia, located on the Ben Franklin Parkway. This project is a collaboration of the Free Library and the Rosenbach Center and features historical context on the authors as well as newly commissioned artwork related to the works of Melville and Whitman.
That’s where I come in. The Library commissioned artwork from me that consists of a box similar to an advent calendar. Each box contains pictures and text that correspond with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Part puzzle, part Whitman fortune-telling device, the box is designed as an interactive tool to help readers engage with the Great Gray Bard in a new and compelling way. In the spring I will be participating in an event where I take the box out of its display case to show off its possibilities. Time and date to be announced.
Special thanks to the team that created the exhibition: graphic designer Nathanael Roesch, writer/editor Clare Fentress, registrar Jobi Zink, FLP Deputy Director Andrew Nurkin, the Rosenbach’s Alexander Ames, and co-curator Professor Ed Whitley. In the coming year, a series of related events and programs in support of the exhibition will be held. Watch for details!
Update: On the back of the sampler there is an illustration of Walt for the 21st century, departing as air, waiting for us along life’s path in the grass beneath our soles/souls:
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
—Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Did you ever play that game Lifeboat, where you have one lifeboat and you have to decide who gets to jump into it? You know, priest vs. pregnant mother vs. sailor vs. rich banker vs. yadda, yadda, yadda?
There’s a similar thing called the trolley problem in situational ethics. Well, MIT is working on a database to help self-driving cars play their own version of the who-to-save game. It makes one wonder how we’ll program (teach?) all sorts of machines we will come to rely on, and how those machines in turn will have to program (teach?) ethics to that which they create. On and on… Our ethical codes are handed down to us via our myths and stories, philosophies and laws, traditions and taboos. However, the idealism they aspire toward is often left unexercised in everyday practice. Will AI face that same conundrum? In the article on the project at The Economist we learn that, sadly, cats don’t so well in this process. Not sure about kittens.
Hitchcock made a movie called Lifeboat based on a script by John Steinbeck and featuring the lovely Tallaullah Bankhead. Maybe we need a new version of Lifeboat now that we have ruined the planet. A movie featuring the Terminator, C3PO, The Jetsons’ Rosie, a Dalek and the Lost in Space robot. Maybe they should decide if we humans are worthy of shooting into the stars.
Writer friends! CCP peeps! Community College of Philadelphia has several cool workshops and readings open to the public this week, and I especially recommend Viet Đinh‘s event on his Penn/Faulkner Award-finalist novel, After Disasters. (Full sched. with times and locations at https://www.myccp.online/2018-poets-writers-festival)
Happy poetry month! I’m doing two events to kick off the celebration. the first is a panel at the Rosemont College LitLife conference. Click here for details. Tim Seibles, a wonderful Philly poet who now teaches in Virginia (where he is the poet laureate for the state!) is just one of the amazing poets at the conference. I met Tim a few years ago when he read for us at the college where I work. What a great guy! I’ll be doing a panel on creating images with the wonderful poet Dawn Manning. Look for us there on April 1st.
And, speaking of my college, Community College of Philadelphia, our Poets & Writers Festival comes to a conclusion this coming Monday with a free event below. Check it out!
Monday, April 3, 2017
6 – 8 p.m.
Klein Cube, Room P2-03
The Community College of Philadelphia Spring Faculty Showcase of Writers
Join College’s distinguished faculty members as they read from their latest poetry and prose in what has become an annual tradition. Refreshments will be served! Click here for more info!
The line-up includes: Jonathan Pappas; Amy Birge; Lauren Genovesi; Julie Odell; Kelly McQuain; Brian Goedde. Hosted by Jeffrey Markovitz.
#writersresist January 15 is the date for Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty. The event is part of PEN America’s country-wide mobilization to let the Trump administration know that we writers will not back down or backtrack when it comes to human rights and civil liberties. I’ll be reading alongside many Philly friends from works that speak to empathy and justice. Nathaniel Popkin, one of the organizers, writes, “We chose the word united because this event is meant to bring us together as a literary community with abundant shared interests. We are poets, novelists, filmmakers, artists, publishers, readers, promoters, journalists, essayists, narrative non-fiction and experimental writers, editors, scholars, and translators, all to say, loudly, that we will stand for the freedoms written right here.”
Kirkus Reviews has a nice review of Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods, an anthology of writers from West Virginia that I have a few poems in. Read the review here. I’m looking forward to it out on March 1st, and it can be ordered now through Amazon or your favorite local bookstore.
Kudos to editors Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy.
UPDATE: PBS News Hour has a wonderful review of the collection here. An excerpt:
“The poetry read that night, and contained in the anthology, is not what you might expect out of West Virginia, or from regional poetry. For one, it does not fall into the trap of nostalgia or tackle traditional subjects in traditional ways. Instead, it examines, often unsparingly, topics as wide-ranging as environmental dangers, sexual identity, family conflict, discrimination and rebellion. At many points, the poetry asks questions about how to leave the past behind — or at least how to learn to live with it.”
“The struggle of leaving and coming back home is a recurring theme in the anthology. In the poem “Ritual,” poet Kelly McQuain writes about a visit to West Virginia in which he helps his mother get a bat out of the house and then quickly prepares to leave, his bags already packed. “In these ways,” he writes, “we rescue ourselves.”
Summer 2015 was a busy one in terms of new visual projects, including a poetry portrait series for Fjords Review and this new wraparound cover I illustrated for poet Kazim Ali’s new book of short stories, UNCLE SHARIF’S LIFE IN MUSIC. @KazimAliPoet #KazimAli @SRP_Bryan
The wraparound cover features images of the nephew and uncle from the title story as well as tarot cards and allusions to other stories in the collection. Pen and ink and watercolor. You can order the book here: http://siblingrivalrypress.bigcartel.com/
Here’s the cover with the title added by the boys at Sibling Rivalry Press:
Uncle Sharif’s Life in Music
Stories by Kazim Ali
About the Book: On the eve of war, a group of artists try to stage a performance. An ill-thought-through deception to protect a friend threatens to unravel several relationships in a circle. A young man wakes up in a church graveyard with complete amnesia except for scraps of memories that appear to be from several different peoples’ lives. Two friends, haunted by the ghost of failed intimacy and the shadow of disease, wander the rainy streets of Paris. A musician makes a clumsy last-ditch effort at seducing a lost love. At Niagara Falls a neglected boy discovers his relationship to God. In a contemporary re-telling of the Majnoon and Laila myth, an astronomer falls in love with the sky. These six stories and novella from the author of the novels Quinn’s Passage, The Disappearance of Seth and Wind Instrument intertwine their concerns for the artistic life and the importance of the creative impulse with their belief in timelessness and the universal need for human empathy. Kazim Ali brings a poet’s attention to language, a musician’s sense of structure and a choreographer’s sense of character and movement to these dynamic and genre-blurring pieces which range in form from coming-of-age story, speculative fiction, ekphrasis, epistolary fiction and tarot deck.
A Process Essay
In working on “The Empathy Machine”, a visual essay on poetics recently published by Cleaver Magazine, I wrote and drew part 1 in the summer of 2015, and finished part 2 on the kitchen table over a snowy January weekend. Part two was much longer than part 1, which had been subtitled A Visual Narrative on the Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith. Part 2 expanded on those musings into something that took the form of an ars poetica. (You can read part 2 here.) For a long time, the ideas had been stewing in my imagination and coming to life in my sketchpad. But there comes a point when you have to pull it all together, even if that means doing so with tools as simple as glue sticks, a watercolor set, and some Faber Castell artist pens.
What appeared as part 1 in issue #11 of Cleaver started off as a series of New Yorker-style cartoons calling out poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s for his insensitivity in turning the autopsy report of Michael Brown into a performance piece. I was angry. I was MAD. I couldn’t understand how the “material” Goldsmith was performing and the poetry I was writing could all supposedly fall into the same genre. Other people were outraged, too, and when Vanessa Place, Michael Derrick Hudson, and Sherman Alexie entered the equation it all built to a critical mass. (It didn’t hurt that Goldsmith, with his penchant for wild suits and his long beard, was a fun figure to draw.) The anger and energy I felt proved to be a vehicle for me to look outward and inward, a way to ask myself questions to guide me in terms of future art-making, whether that be in words or pictures (or the two combined). Karen Rile, Editor-in-Chief, and Raymond Rorke, Art Editor, would prove invaluable to me along the way in terms of critical feedback.
As new ideas came to me, I found that working in a “New Yorker” style wasn’t going to cut it. The project was opening up into an essay, stretching its shoulders, wanting more space.
My thoughts tend to bounce around in a ricochet, one idea playing off another. I decided my method needed to be old school (literally “cut and paste”) as well as very personal: a journal style to match my journey. I’m a huge fan of cartoonist Lynda Barry, and I’ve followed her work for years, even reviewing some of her early comic strip collections. Using legal pads — which Barry did in What It Is, her fantastic meditation on image-making — proved extremely liberating. Cheap paper gave me a freedom with the material aspect of the project. More color began to enter the drawings as I dug out the paints and Prismacolor pencils I had accumulated over the years. Why hadn’t I been using them? What had I been saving them for? For this?
Over Christmas, through a New Year’s Day plagued with a head cold, and well into a January snowstorm, I made steady progress toward the end of the project. My partner and I did not eat at the kitchen table for weeks.
As I was working on the project, David Bowie died. I loved Bowie, a grand statesman of the ’80s British Invasion that I loved, and so much more. Bowie became another of the visual homages that the narrative called for. Others included Keith Haring’s pop art from the 1980s, which seemed to be everywhere back when I was coming out (and is long overdue for a resurgence in popularity). Another inspiration was the current plight of the honeybee in the face of colony collapse disorder. The list goes on: Ganesh and Cthulhu and Superman; Calvin & Hobbes cartoons; the art of activist Rini Templeton, whose brilliant drawings I happily discovered by way of Christopher Soto’s poetry book, Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press). Templeton’s image suggested connectivity and transformation to me, and were ripe to combine with the image of a mermaid, a sometimes-symbol of the trans community as well as a symbol of the connection between humankind and nature. Other allusions included The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, which I saw once in the Michener collection at the Honolulu Museum in Hawai’i. Most importantly, I relied on a sketchbook filled with faces of the inspirational people I met during the summer of 2015 at the Crosstalk, Color, Composition conference, the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. To those amazing people and their inspiring words, I am grateful. I am changed.
In terms of negative inspirations, I’ve been bothered by this era’s bad habit of people anonymously attacking one another through social media channels when they disagree, and how if anyone critiques that practice he or she is quickly accused of tone-policing or censorship. I understand that anonymity is an appealing veil when one fears for personal safety, but we also diminish our nobility on occasions when we don’t fight fair. If you ask me, there is enough micro-aggression going around these days that it all very quickly adds up to full-sized aggression. Such tactics should be used with caution. That might sound funny coming from someone who has taken a number of shots at Goldsmith and Place, but I also believe in the power of satire as a vehicle for critique and an instrument for social change. Certainly there are voices that get too often heard, and certainly we need new platforms to raise up those voices needing better representation. Yet every time I see a dialogue opportunity get crushed, I hear the creak of more minds closing.
What did I learn about image making? Poems and visual art rely on images, and these images are not always seen with our eyes but with our mind. Ezra Pound described an image as an “interpretative metaphor” or “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”. I think sometimes images can be sounds. Or smells. Or things we touch or things that touch us. These images take us on a journey that at times feels circular and difficult, an uneasy game–but that path is not without purpose.
On a practical level, I found it useful to lay my pages out on the floor in order to get a sense of narrative flow and design. l was reminded how easily paper crinkles when watercolor is added, and that sometimes you need to make your better half gently iron pages the way Carson the butler irons the Earl of Grantham’s newspaper on Downton Abbey. I learned that there are probably better glue sticks out there than the ones Staples sells, and that there is great joy to be found in the smudge-proof nib of a good Faber Castell drawing pen.
I learned that even with ironing it is best to have heavy books on hand to continue flattening your pages prior to scanning. I combined the weight of an atlas, Chip Kidd’s Batman Collected, and a collection of nude studies by photographer George Platt Lynes for a little extra frisson.
In my work, I’ve often felt pulled in many directions at once, that my different art-making impulses compete with each other. This has often left me frustrated. In teasing out the reasons why I think art-making should be viewed as an empathy machine, I learned that what I’ve feared can also be a strength. That the mistakes of others can teach us almost as much as the mistakes we make on our own. I’ve learned that hybrid, ekphrastic constructs bring great satisfaction. Along the way, I developed an Empathy Credo to guide my future making. It might not be the same approach as yours, and my own credo might change and evolve over time. Most of all, this project reminded me that poetry—and all art—is in the making, that the key to overcoming obstacles can be found in the words “try” and “do”.
Now I need to go get busy. What about you?
#MurderMystery #NakedCheesesteak It’s been awhile since I’ve published fiction alongside poems, but the fine folks at Philadelphia Stories approached me last spring with a sweet project: collaborate with twelve other Philly writers on a comical murder mystery called NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK. My new chapter is out this week. Read the chapter online here at the link and find out #whodunnit and who gets whacked.
NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories magazine. While the novel is designed to be a fun romp, poking fun at the sacrilege of such things as vegan cheesesteaks, it also touches on more serious themes. These include the exploitation of adjunct instructors that college towns like Philly use to staff various campuses. NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a wry portrait of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, cuisines, educational institutions and legal systems, all wrapped up in greasy wax paper and shiny aluminum foil.
The idea was cooked up last winter by a handful of writers meeting over wine and chili in a Society Hill townhouse. The story centers on an intrepid Philadelphia detective trying to solve the puzzle of who is poisoning college students at campuses across the city. The novel features a huge cast of flamboyant Philadelphians: an African-American police detective named Chelsea Simon; her bad boy restaurateur husband, Arturo; a crusty, trench coat-wearing news blogger named Ben Travers; the Nicholettis, a sprawling South Philly family with ties throughout the city; and a host of college skate boarders and scullers who get caught up in the malfeasance of the unknown serial killer.
It’s also a portrait of Philadelphia neighborhoods and college campuses. The action takes place in locales as varied as Strawberry Mansion, Allegheny Avenue, Boathouse Row, the Italian Market, Passyunk Avenue and Rittenhouse Square. Murder, mayhem and mystery-solving also takes place at Kelly Writers House at Penn, the Temple University Bell Tower, the Drexel Dragon and more.
The 13-chapter serial novel was written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin and Kelly Simmons. Edited by Mitch Sommers and Tori Bond.
The novel will be published by the magazine’s books division, PS Books.
That next bite is MURDER! Philly friends, join me and a host of other Philly writers for the kick-off of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK, a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories. The novel will be serialized at their website starting in November. It’s definitely the freakiest fiction project I’ve ever been a part of.
Thursday, November 5 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Tattooed Mom, 530 South St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147
Join us at the launch party for “Naked Came the Cheesesteak,” a 13-chapter serial novel written by Philadelphia area writers
NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories magazine. The idea was cooked up last winter by a handful of writers meeting over wine and chili in a Society Hill townhouse. The story centers on an intrepid Philadelphia detective trying to solve the puzzle of who is poisoning college students at campuses across the city. The novel features a huge cast of flamboyant Philadelphians: an African-American police detective named Chelsea Simon; her bad boy restaurateur husband, Arturo; a crusty, trench coat-wearing news blogger named Ben Travers; the Nicholettis, a sprawling South Philly family with ties throughout the city; and a host of college skate boarders and scullers who get caught up in the malfeasance of the unknown serial killer. The 13-chapter serial novel was written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin and Kelly Simmons!
The novel will be published by the magazine’s books division, PS Books.