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/
I was over the moon this April to learn I won the first annual Glitter Bomb Award from poet Dustin Brookshire’s Limp Wrist magazine. The contest was judged by Pulitzer Prize Finalist Dorianne Laux, whom I greatly admire, and it came with a $500 prize. Issue 3 is live now with three of my poems, including the award-winning “Ruby on Fire”. Click here to read it.
This month I had some wonderful poetry news. A poem of mine, “The Moon in Drag” will appear in the anthology series Best New Poets 2020. I’ll post more about it when the anthology comes out. Also, another poem, “The Walk” was recently featured in the online journal Trampset. You can read it here.
I have a new poem up at the literary journal, Rogue Agent. Check it out if you like: “The Grieving Bone” (click here).
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.
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.”
Read poet Shelley Puhak’s essay at the Columbia Journal.
Is it any surprise then, that after passing from one iron cage to another, passing from one blue-serge inspector to another, my great-grandmother was detained for further inspection?
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?
What do Oscar Wilde, Horace, CA Conrad, Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place, Ted Hash-Berryman and Alfred E. Newman all have in common? Cleaver Magazine is featuring my visual essay on MOMA poet Kenneth Goldsmith and the strange state of American poetics as a back-to-school essay in their new issue. Read The Empathy Machine here and get the low-down.
A direct link to the art and text is here. Find out what makes me MAD.
Lambda Literary Fellows need your help! And I am one of them. It’s been a great year for publishing poems, and recently I received the good news I was named a Lambda Literary Fellow, where I will get to study with poet Kazim Ali at the University of Southern California in June.
The opportunity comes with a steep price tag of around an estimated $2650 for tuition, fees, board and travel costs to Los Angeles (such as airfare & shuttles). I am trying to raise about a third of that money to help offset my out-of-pocket cost. If your rent is due, if times are tight, by all means pay yourself first and forget this message. But if things are a little easier in your life and you’d like to gain some good artistic karma, please consider making a tax-deductible donation via the Donor Page to help me or one of the other writers who has yet to meet his or her goal. While many Fellows have already met their goals, others haven’t made a dent in it. $1? 5? No amount is too little, and it’s easy to make a secure online payment. You can also help by buying a copy of my poetry book, Velvet Rodeo, this spring at one of the many readings I have in the Philadelphia area or by ordering one from me directly ($8+shipping=$10). Just shoot me a message if you like at kellymcquain.writer [at]gmail.com. I hate asking for help, and no worries if you can’t do so. In fact, many of my online writing communities have already helped just by offering ongoing support, which truly means a lot. If not for such communities, I would not have maintained the momentum to keep sending work out and to apply for competitive opportunities like the Lambda Literary Retreat.
In related good news, I was also recently accepted as a Tennessee Williams Scholar to the prestigious Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee for July 2015. The scholarship helps cover that those costs, but I’m still saving for airfare and board for that too. But mostly what I’m sweating at the moment are the Lambda costs. Please consider helping out a writer this summer even if it is not me. Buy books, pass the hat, and help keep the beauty of words coming for somebody.
I’m working my ass off this summer publishing new poems, doing illustrations for journals, and even writing a chapter in a round-robin murder mystery that’s a fundraiser for a great literary magazine I’m happy to support (more on this fun project later). An anthology I was published in—The Queer South–is up for a Lambda Literary Award on June 1st. More new publications in anthologies like Rabbit Ears: TV Poems and journals like Eleven Eleven and Knockout are on the way. 2015 is shaping up to be the best writing summer of my life! I love a lot of different art forms and sometimes feel pulled in a thousand directions, but I’m proving that it can all work if you keep your nose to the grindstone. I hope your summer is equally productive, too.
Thanks for listening.
–Kelly McQuain, May 2015. Philadelphia.
You can find out more about Lambda Literary here: http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersRetreat2015/KellyMcQuain/
A list of all Donor Pages and a list of my fellow Fellows, with their bios. at the links here: The full list of all Donor Pages is here: http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersRetreat2015/ (Click on “Show all fundraisers for this event”)
May the Year 2015 Find You in a Peaceable Kingdom
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
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.
BEST GAY BOOK
Rainbow Book Awards
1. Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law
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
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
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 http://reviews-and-ramblings.dreamwidth.org/4489098.html
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
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.
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
larry [at] moonstoneartscenter.org
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.