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
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
“Join us in celebrating Literary Arts Week in Philadelphia by recognizing the Rittenhouse Writers Group, Mighty Writers, Philadelphia Young Playwrights and Blue Stoop – Philadelphia organizations supporting local emerging writers. Festivities will include a reception, a poetry reading by a special guest, and the opening of Visual Democracy, an Art in City Hall exhibit that celebrates the connection between the literary and visual arts as part of Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy.”
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
City Hall Philadelphia
Mayor’s Reception Room, 202
Conversation Hall, Room 201
Visual Democracy Exhibit Opening
This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.
This event is part of Whitman at 200 https://www.whitmanat200.org/
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.
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.”
I’m sharing here an interesting take on the feminine origin of many Christmas and Yuletide customs. –Kelly
Oh wondrous headed doe… Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun…” Hungarian Christmas Folk Song Long before Santa charioted his flying steeds across our mythical skies, it w…
Last year I was part of a Facebook discussion thread where JH Cové, a Dutch anthropologist, took to task someone who equated the two: He wrote, “The Dutch Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas, has nothing to do with Christmas. It is celebrated on Dec. 5th [the eve of St. Nicholas’s Feast Day], after which he goes back to Spain, and Christmas preparations can begin all over Holland. He’s got his own songs, his own history (from Myra, Turkey, correct), and, these days, is rivaled by Santa Claus (or Father Christmas or Papa Noel). I’m sure there are anthropologists that find connections somewhere—and there is a resemblance in the fact that they both use chimneys (who came up with that first?), even though in Holland Santa Claus doesn’t!—but take it from this Dutch anthropologist, they’re very different.”
A lot of strong Dutch pride there. My take? Santa and Sinterklaas both share the same Catholic saint as their inspiration, and Santa derives from the Dutch version via the Dutch immigrants arriving in the New York area in the 1600/1700s. Without Sinterklaas, and perhaps without Father Christmas from England, there would be no modern Santa, since he is essentially a mash-up of the two. It’s true, Sinterklaas and Santa have markedly different personalities in the way they are portrayed. I think of them as cousins, or brothers in the Yuletide spirit.
Someone else in the conversation brought up the Dutch customs surrounding the black men mentioned in the David Sedaris story “Six to Eight Black Men” (from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim). Those characters are Sinterklaas’s Zwarte Piet companions, and they sometimes play a role similar to Santa’s elves. At other times, as in the Sedaris story, they play a “bad cop” role to Sinterklaas’s good cop. Like Krampus, the Zwarte Piet characters are sometimes said to carry bad children off. In the Sedaris essay, that’s back to Spain, where Sinterklaas is said to live. Unlike his cousin, Santa, who lives at the North Pole. I’d say Sinterklaas has the better deal there.
Most of the time the Zwarte Piet companions play the role of cheerful assistants, but they are not without controversy (for evidence, see the article below from a 2014 issue of The Economist).. As the Dutch become more racially diverse, people are beginning to question the use of black-face as a means for white people to portray the diminutive imp, whose roots lie in the history of the Moors conquest of Europe. Some people now make up new stories (the black is ash from chimney soot) while others have turned to using face paint in a variety of colors–red, blue, green etc, making the new Piets as colorful as a bag of Skittles. http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21635517-worsening-clash-over-tradition-and-racial-sensitivities-blacked-up
For more info on KRAMPUS, the star of a new horror film this year, check out this post. It tells how folks in Philadelphia are celebrating with an array of European characters and traditions.
For more on holiday folklore, join the Krampuslauf Philly Folklore group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/966987013330153/edit/
ALSO, if you live near Philadelphia and wish to take part in this year’s fun Alpine Christmas tradition, check out the Krampuslauf Parade of Spirits website.
Event: Krampuslauf Philadelphia 2015
Sat. Dec. 12, 3 pm. Parade is usually at dusk.
Venue: Liberty Lands Park
913-961 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, US
I’m stealing this idea from Philebrity editor Joey Sweeney. What are the things you are looking forward to between now and Labor Day 2015? Here’s Mine. Now it’s your turn! #SummerToDoList #summer2015
What I’m Looking Forward to Doing the Summer of 2015
–meeting my friend Steph (along with all out other peeps) to show her the pleasure of happy hour drinks at Harbor Park.
–water gun battles.
–corn, potatoes, shrimp and sausage boiled in Old Bay.
–actually calling at least one old friend a week to catch up and stoke the embers of the good times we’ve shared.
–drinking wine and watching movies in the park.
–checking out the El Bar and hearing friends’ old stories about getting chased and beaten up on that block and boy has this neighborhood changed…
—-hanging out at the Lambda Literary Writing Retreat and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. (https://kellymcquain.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/lambda-literary-fellows-need-your-help/)
–reading for pleasure (hammocks preferred).
–planting something and watching it grow.
–wearing sandals every day.
–aw, hell. Going barefoot.
–helping my high school pal Ric hang his solo art show on the Chesapeake Bay.
–taking pleasure in my friends’ successes.
–jazz cocktails on M Restaurant’s patio.
–t-ball and playground trips with my adorable nephews, and pool trips sans their water wings. Checking in with all the other nieces and nephews, too.
–getting someone to go tubing with me in New Hope, or canoeing in the pine barrens…
–drawing, painting, getting messy and having fun.
–talking to someone older who might be able to give me a little wisdom for what’s ahead.
–wearing breathable seersucker shirts and shorts.
–jumping in a fountain and pretend I’m on Friends.
–visiting Mom at her WV home… and seeing what latest critter has tried to get inside her house (in the last year, it’s been a mother bear with her cubs, two blacksnakes, and myriad deer. Only an enterprising groundhog has actually made it all the way into the living room)
–eating my way through Philly’s festivals. (Italian Market Festival? Check. Greek Festival? You’re up next)
–sudden thunderstorms where the temperature drops fifteen degrees in twenty minutes.
–peeling off wet clothes with someone I love.
–beach trips to Jersey, Delaware, and beyond, I hope.
–discovering the Drink of Summer (Paloma? Dark ‘n Stormy? Mojito? Some new invention?)
–writing, writing, writing. Finishing things, finishing things, and not beating myself up when I don’t finish everything.
–making a summer Playlist with the help of my music guru (he owns nearly six thousand CDs and they are all alphabetized! I know, I know. What’s a CD?)
–easy desserts of John’s Water Ice (lemon) with a shot of limocello (add strawberries for additional fancy-pants points.)
–hard cheese drizzled with honey infused by chocolate and habaneros (thank you, Mr. Artisanal Beekeeper at the Italian Market).
–seeing two summer blockbusters back-to-back on the big screen. Maybe even three!
–celebrating Walt Whitman’s birthday with some great out-of-town writers as part of the “Five for Philly” reading at Giovanni’s Room. https://www.facebook.com/events/836983619708969/
–shooting the shit with my neighbor in his yard.
–taking part in some exciting secret projects with various literary journals.
–and so much more!
This week Speaking of Marvels, a site that publishes interviews by chapbook authors, published an interview with me about the creation and publication of Velvet Rodeo. Other recent interviews have include poets Danez Smith, Allison Joseph and Elizabeth Savage. For anyone interested in the creation, production, and marketing of chapbooks, the site reveals the various processes and provides sample poems by the authors. Click here to read the review: https://chapbookinterviews.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/kelly-mcquain/
Lots of shout-outs in the interview to those folks tagged.
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.
The October issue of A&U Magazine (Art & Understanding) ran my poem “Monkey Orchid” in their print edition, a pic of which I’ve added here. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how Truvada and PrEP offer new opportunities in the prevention of HIV (a good, personalized account by writer Evan Peterson ran recently in the Seattle indie, The Stranger). These innovations mark a sea change in the navigation of intimacy and desire among gay men. This wasn’t always the case; any gay man who came of age in the 80s, 90s, or 00s, can probably tell you how anxiety-ridden it was to look for love (or sex). Survivors still reel from the body count of lost friends and the uncomfortable memory of an uncaring Reagan administration. “Monkey Orchid” is a depiction of that era and the surreality of the circuit party scene. It finds its motif in a flower, pictured here. I’ve been working on a suite of poems that uses unusual specimens of flora or fauna as a lens to see the world anew. This is one of them. Update: A&U has archived the poem here.
My thanks to writer/critic Daniel Wallace and Burlesque Press for sharing with me their new review of my poetry chapbook, Velvet Rodeo. (Burlesque Press, btw, offers a very cool and intimate literary conference in New Orleans over the holidays–it includes a masquerade ball!) My thanks for them taking the time with my little red book.
More on their festival is here:
#burlesque BLOOM Literary Journal #poetry #WVpoetry #phillypoetry
Two new poems appear this week in the fall issue of The Fox Chase Review, “Ritual” and “Two Street, After the Parade”. The first is set in West Virginia and based on a true incident concerning a bat. The second is offered up as a love letter to Philadelphia and the annual Mummer’s Parade on New Year’s Day. Read them if you like at the link.
CODEX has a new fall issue out. I have a poem about my father in it. It seems a fitting season for it to come out now that the leaves are starting to change. Loss has haunted me lately, and the rage that goes along with it. I lost my father to cancer a long time ago, and more recently I lost a college friend who leaves behind her husband and two boys. I dream of better days.
You can read “Architect” here if you like: http://codexjournal.com/kelly_mcquain/.
Maybe I will read this poem at Tattooed Mom’s bar at the reading tonight. I’ll be there with friends, celebrating this journey and what time is allotted to us.