Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Muse: Connecticut Poet Laureate

Ever since [I got hooked as a poet] I have wanted
to make people realize that poetry isn't esoteric,
hateful or scary. It's beautiful and enjoyable.*
~ Rennie McQuilkin

Rennie McQuilkin is Connecticut's Poet Laureate. Formerly the local poet laureate of Simsbury, McQuilkin succeeds Dick Allen and will serve until July 2020. 

For more information on the honorary Poet Laureate position, see my post on Dick Allen (November 1, 2010).

At "CT Poet's Corner", following his appointment, McQuilkin contributed poems as well as some thoughts on what he aimed to do as Poet Laureate, stating, "My mission will be to help undo Public PT (Poetic Trepidation) and find ways of suggesting that 'Poetry like bread is for everyone,' that it is a delight to the ear, a joy to the heart, a feast for the mind, and a solace for the spirit. . . ." Speaking specifically of the "CT Poet's Corner", he added, "As more and more of us turn to poetry as a way of survival, I'd like this monthly column to feature poems by writers who can help us live joyful lives despite the chaos surrounding us, poems that praise life, help us appreciate the ordinary miracles of every day, . . and laugh our way to sanity."

McQuilkin elsewhere indicates that during his five-year term, he will draw on earlier experience to urge local access television stations to include a poetry series in their programming and support the Coalition of Local Poets Laureate in its effort to promote establishment of local poets laureate positions in more towns and cities.

* * * * *
I like the silences and spacing of poetry. . .
I like to be led by the poem, see 
where it takes me. . . .**

Rennie McQuilkin, publisher and editor of the independent Antrim House Books, is himself the author of a number of collections: Going On: New & Selected Poems (2015), Visitations (2013), The Weathering: New & Selected Poems 1969-2009 (2011), which won the 2010 Connecticut Book Award and an honorable mention for the 2011 Eric Hoffer Award in poetry; North Northeast: New England Scenes (1985; 2nd Ed., 2007), First & Last: Poems (2006), Passage: Poems (2005), and Learning the Angels: Poems (2003). His other books include Private Collection: Poems and Writer's Guide (2006) and Getting Religion: Poems (2005). All of these have been published by Antrim House Books. McQuilkin's Private Collection comprises the writer's responses to artworks (ekphrastic poems).

The one- and two-word titles of McQuilkin's spare poems as well as his books' titles give an idea of the range of subjects and themes his poetry addresses: art, daily life, family life, childhood, nature and animals, the seasons, love, illness and mortality, resilience, memory, storytelling, religion, war, world events. McQuilkin, as his many admirers point out, is attentive to syntax and structure, unshowy, skillful with metaphor and image, and musical. 

Here are excerpts from two of McQuilkin's poems:

[. . .]
He is giving the sermon.
Behind him, her face a pale mask the ecru of old lace,
her hands off-white as weathered bone, his wife,
who once won the conservatory's Chopin competition,

is at the organ, its keys like serried rows of bright
forbidding teeth. [. . .]
~ from "The Rector's Wife"

At the dark end of the year
when the owl sweet talks
all night, I work the Advent
calendar, open another 

door, wait to look in
on the child. [. . .]
~ from "Counting to Christmas" in Going On

McQuilkin's poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, magazines, and periodicals, including The American Scholar, The Atlantic, Beloit Poetry JournalThe Christian Science Monitor, The Connecticut ReviewCrazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, The Hudson Review, The Malahat ReviewThe North American Review, The Ontario ReviewPoetry, Poetry NorthwestThe Southern Review, Southwest Review, The Texas ReviewVerse DailyThe Writer's AlmanacThe Yale Review, and Yankee.

Some anthologies that include McQuilkins poems are Sunken Garden Poetry 1992-2011 (Wesleyan [Garnet Books Series], 2012), The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink (Bloomsbury USA, 2012), and Voices in the Gallery: Writers on Art (University of Rochester Press, Rev. Ed., 2001).

In addition to a lifetime achievement award in 2003 from the Connecticut Center for the Book, McQuilkin has been awarded the Ruth Fox Award from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Connecticut Office of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. His book We All Fall Down (Swallow Tale Press, 1986) won the Swallow's Tale Poetry Prize; An Astonishment and an Hissing (1982) received a Texas Review Poetry Prize; and Learning the Angels was considered for the 2002 Anhinga Prize for poetry (it was runner-up).

McQuilkin is founder of Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.


Photo Credit: Pit Pinegar

All Poetry Excerpts © Rennie McQuilkin

* Quoted from Julia Werth, "New Poet Laureate Wants Poetry to Be Part of Mainstream Culture", Hartford Courant, July 29, 2015

** Quoted from Wendy Carlson, "Connecticut Poet Laureate Comes to Hotchkiss"

Francis Carr Jr., "Westport Victory Lap from New Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin", The Hour, November 15, 2015

Rennie McQuilkin Profiles Online: Poets & WritersWhom You Know

Rennie McQuilkin Poems Online: "Learning the Angels", "We All Fall Down", "The Lighter", and "End of Season" (All in Learning the Angels), All at Antrim House Books; "Solstice" at How a Poem Happens; "The Digging" at The Writer's Almanac (Also at The Millbrook Independent); "Good Friday", "Staying Alive", "Squirrels", "Visitation", "Bernini's Angel", "Landscape with Log Carrier", "At the Upright", and "Morning" (All in Visitations), All at Antrim House Books; "The Rector's Wife" at Verse Daily; "Eviction" in Poetry; "Vision" at Beloit Poetry Journal (pdf); "Mark's Auto Parts", "Balancing", "Sister Marie Angelica Plays Badminton", "Regatta", and "Lord God Bird" (All in Getting Religion), All at Antrim House Books; "On Assignment in Uganda", "First Snow in the Garden of the Geishas", and "Lines" (All in First & Last), All at Antrim House Books; "Baptism", "War News", "Getaway", and "Last Minute" (All in Private Collection), All at Antrim House Books; "This", "Ceremony, Indian Summer", "The Digging", and "Rock Band with Fireflies" (All in North Northeast) , All at Antrim House Books; "Morning" and "Last" (Both in Weathering), Both at Antrim House Books; "Counting to Christmas", "Going Under", "The Lighters", "The Dealer", "Morning", "Lines", Dawning", "An Old Man's Sense", "The Digging", "We All Fall Down", "Sister Marie Angelica Plays Badminton", "Bruegel's Players", "Romance of the Red-Breasted Grosbeak", "Doctoring", "Dowser", "Easter Saturday", "Ascension at the Neue", and "Hands" (All from Going On), All at Antrim House Books; "Hands" at Poetry (Also at CT Coalition of Poets Laureate); "An Old Man's Sense", "Birthday at the Motor Vehicle Dept.", "The Tracking", "Inishmaan", "Ascension", "Visit", "Miss Caroline", "Isobel at 87", "The Other Woman", "Rendezvous in a Country Churchyard", "Peter Farr", "Doing Time at Gilead Regional", "At the Bar", and "Ladders to Glory, Woods Hole", All at Poetry; "Child of War" and "At the Upright", Both at CT NOW "CT Poet's Corner"; "Spring Song" (p. 37) and "Luna Moth" (p. 38), Both at Hiram Poetry Review (pdf)

Peachy Deegan, "Movers and Shakers: Rennie McQuilkin, Poet, Publisher, and Godfather of Whom You Know!", Interview, Whom You Know, September 10, 2010

Rennie McQuilkin on FaceBook

Connecticut Government Portal: Connecticut Poet Laureate Page

Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate FAQs

Connecticut Poetry Society

Antrim House Books (For an article on the press, see "Simsbury's Antrim House Spreads Poetry and Prose", January 4, 2012.)

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