The Weathering, a collection of new and selected poems that won the 2010 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry*, focuses in part on the extent to which the poet and those he admires have weathered the worst life has thrown at them. The folk McQuilkin admires are a rare and wonderful lot. The book is a cornucopia of characters. It is also a cornucopia of moods and motifs, ranging from humor to horror, sometimes in the same poem; combining hope and despair, sensuality and spirituality, fury at a fierce father and reconciliation with him; passionate involvement in the work-a-day world and an equally passionate affair with the world of art, which inspired many of the poems in The Weathering. Throughout the book, there is rare honesty and willingness to face hard facts, some of them being the poet’s own shortcomings. Above all, there is love for the immediate and mediate members of his family, both at home and in the world at large encompassing all manner of creatures, some of them animal, vegetable and mineral. Along with love comes the equal and opposite force of rage, rage at lovelessness. This is a book for all seasons.

Eamon Grennan has this to say about The Weathering: “Rennie McQuilkin offers poems of a grainy, poised, exacting honesty. There’s sort of Shaker furniture feel to their mix of plainness and grace. Grounded and unabashedly local as they are, these poems can yet be ‘at home in the sky’ and ‘in touch with everywhere,’ offering a deep reading of a truly examined life.  McQuilkin balances with elegance the practical, erotic, and mindful zones of his experience, infusing the quotidian with a sense of something nearly numinous. To risk a large formulation, which McQuilkin would likely shrug off, I’d say his is, at root, a redemptive vision, an ability to encounter tough truths, and by encountering them without flinching, to come through.  Quietly vigilant, affectionate yet scrupulous and at times humorously wry, the poems in The Weathering—in their landscapes and dreamscapes, their weathers, their swift erotic swerves, their family of loved ones, their undimmed, perpetual relish for the things of nature and the things of man—give, in form and content, language and matter, continuous pleasure.” Gray Jacobik adds, “Rennie McQuilkin writes in the gracious and prized practice of poetry’s high calling, the American Romantic tradition. The poems in The Weathering, a gathering of new and selected work, excel in conception, execution, passion, and musicality. McQuilkin’s diction is rich yet never overblown, and his syntax carries the full burden of each poem’s meaning with a brook’s easy sinuosities. And yet individual persons, in the midst of calamity or triumph, deeply and compassionately regarded, are at the center of each work, as are an extensive range of subjects—the art we make, our relationship to the sweet and sometimes-harsh Earth, our many physical and spiritual chastisements. Elegant and tenderhearted, replete with sound-play and radiant metaphor, such poems rank with the best of Carruth, Kunitz, Nemerov, and Warren. In these flashy, frantic, noisy times, poems of McQuilkin’s precision and subtle control, whose razzle-dazzle comes from the depths and not the surfaces of experience, are far too easily overlooked. The cost of such neglect is inestimable.” Other reviewers have been equally enthusiastic. Richard Wilbur has praised McQuilkin’s new book, his tenth, for its “unostentatious brilliance of structure” and “seemingly offhand way of threading thought through its particulars.” 

Rennie McQuilkin’s poetry has been published by The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The American Scholar, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, and other journals. He is the author of ten poetry collections, three of which have won awards, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the State of Connecticut. For many years he directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT, and subsequently founded Antrim House Books, which publishes the work of Northeastern poets. In 2003 he received the Connecticut Center for the Book’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He and his wife, the artist Sarah McQuilkin, live in Simsbury, CT.

In 2010 The Weathering won The Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, an annual award presented by the Connecticut Center for the Book, which operates under the aegis of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. In 2011, The Weathering was honorably mentioned for the Hoffer Award in Poetry. The citation reads as follows: "Throughout McQuilkin's latest collection, including both new and selected work from the years 1969 to 2009, readers will find a lifetime of practiced performance by a master confident of his clear eye and in his finely tuned perceptions. His poems are models of hymn-like musicality in calm accord with his simply stated but sharply drawn recollections, histories, observations and personal tales. We recognize a profound attention to the often-undervalued richness of our everyday world. We can feel comfortably at home in Rennie McQuilkin's beautifully wrought compositions; they define a provenance and declare a value for a vanishing birthright we are loath to lose."

For other books by Rennie McQuilkin, see the Antrim House catalog. Click here to read sample poems. And for a Garrison Keillor reading of "The Digging," go to Writer's Almanac, Oct. 27, 2009. And for a reading from The Weathering and North Northeast, click here

Click here to view Rennie McQuilkin’s upcoming events

Click here to read ancillary material in the Seminar Room

BOOK STATISTICS

ISBN 978-0-9798451-7-8
Length: 240 pages, 6" x 9" perfect bound

 

$23.50 USD per book

plus 6% sales tax (CT only)

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MORNING

Lying alone in the straight and narrow bed
of old age, I work my way down the crooked hall
of memory—to where it was I went those early mornings,
trailing behind me the tattered cloudbank of my blanket

to the room Father had not yet expelled me from,
the room with the queen-size bed and rose-red comforter
I slid under, as close to Mother as possible, molding myself
to the seed-curl of her back and shoulder, the sweet tang

of her, slowing my breathing to match her own
with long, delicious inspirations
until first light lit the cream of her neck and cheek
and day broke in

with the rustle of pheasants in the pine,
fee-bee-ing of chickadees, phew-phew-phewing of cardinals,
swish of washing and brushing from
the street-cleaning truck

and finally the high-pitched bellsound of bottles
placed in their metal basket by the Nakoma Dairy man.
And Father would groan and Mother would turn to hold
me against the soft of her

and beyond the veil of her hair the light would grow and
she would take me by the hand along the dark crooked hall
to the back stairs, down to the bright kitchen,
and let me bring in the milk.

I’d uncrinkle the stiff paper cap of a narrow-necked bottle
and lift the tab beneath,
pull it from the mouth, love the liquid labor
and pop of its release

and lick the cream from its underside, the thick sweet cream,
a memory I knew—but not of what.

WAR NEWS

At breakfast with father,
when I grew tired of seeing the war news
on the back of the paper he held, bare-
knuckled, I studied what else stood between us.

For all its British silver, it was Byzantine
and Gallic, onion-domed
and perforated with tiny fleurs-de-lis to
pour the sugar.

Or So I say now—
then, it was merely beyond me.
And he went on flipping pages with angry snaps.
Nothing worth his while there.

Still, the paper stayed up, the test
continued. I thought
of snatching the Times away, finding
my father

less furious
than disappointed I was, as ever,
stupid, stupid, stupid — like all the rest that
passed for news. So I waited,

watched his hand emerge, huge
and graceful,
close around the sugar tower,
raise it deftly out of sight behind the paper,

sweeten,
and return it, ridged and shining,
to its appointed place.
I made a promise to myself:

I would study harder,
craft myself more perfectly, wait patiently
for him to notice and reach out
that gently to me.

CEREMONY, INDIAN SUMMER

The afternoon ripens, the whip-poor-will
begins. Two dragonflies pause,
yellow-striped, red-tipped on a snag,
then blur to the pond,

resume their ritual, arched bodies coiled
tail to head and head to tail,
an eight-winged wheel of fire, a figment
from Ezekiel

above the bridal dance
of cloud-white, wing-furred caddis flies
redoubled by the pond.
Thistle seed drifts like confetti.

And deeper down in the angling light
past nubile perch in green and saffron
shallows, a pair of three-foot carp seem lit
from within

the color of the lingering sun,
their roiling in the rising mist of spring,
backs humped half out, snake-sinuous,
forgotten. The stillness of the carp

is so complete each red-gold, black-lined
scale shines separately, the pulse of tail fins
oriental, like the sway of night into day
into night.

LAST

in the Kuznetsk Alatau Mountains, Southern Siberia

He and she are old. They are dying. Perhaps not today
but soon, soon. They are in the way, a remnant
no longer protected by the deep pocket of their valley
to which the oil rigs have come, and drillers from Kiev,

whose word for him means “loco local.”
He’s unintelligible, bent like a Siberian birch from
too many winters. And she at ninety a chanter of the old
songs—in a language these two are the last to speak.

No matter. No one needs such words
as pine smoke-fire for orchard frost. Smudge pots do it
better. And sixty-one nouns for a dozen healing herbs
are pointless. The world has pharmaceuticals.

This is the way evolution works. It doesn’t protect
what isn’t needed, wipes it out, tries
something else, obliterates that,
starts again...

The universe has no use for the senseless song
she sings, cradling him at the foot of the apple ladder
from which he has fallen, or for a love-name he prolongs,
tracing like a blindman the map

of her palm, map unauthorized by the authorities, map
containing place names only these two remember,
map which he will not let go, even as his hand
falls away from hers.

ON ASSIGNMENT IN UGANDA

after a Newsweek photograph, 4/3/2000, by Peter Andrews

I focus my lens on the boy’s upper lip
with its curve and cleft of love’s bow
strung with a sweet line of lower lip.

He has turned from the broken wall of
a smoldering church, has taken in what
my camera has shot—hundreds

locked inside, charred
piles of bone sparkling with shards
of stained glass. He knew them.

He holds a sprig of rosemary to
breathe through, sweeten the stench.
It doesn’t

keep his lower lip from trembling,
tightening, pulling
away from the bow, beginning

to release a scream. Let it be shrill
enough to shatter the lens
I see through.

BAPTISM

after “Baptism in Kansas,” John Steuart Curry

Things keep going on the way they do
except one day in the middle of nothing
they don’t.

I remember how hot it was—not a creak
from the windmill
and the Fords our folks had come in
steamed.

We stood around.
Our pockets were no place for hands,
they said, and wouldn’t let us in the dark
of the barn or anywhere God wouldn’t be
because the preacher was in the yard
to baptize whoever he could
in Tatums’ water tank.

Six lined up.
I envied them the cool of their gowns
and the year or so they had on me
but not the way he dragged them under
and kept them there so long they bucked
like bullheads.

Mostly, I went along with the hymnbook
someone pushed at me
until he got to Ellen McGee,
held her under and didn’t stop,
thinking maybe anything that pretty
was bound for goings on.

I was ready for something like the cat
I had tried to drown and failed
when up she came as sweet...
and stood for a spell at the edge
of the tank, at home in the sky.

And her gown, wet through, was true to her
and her face was where the sun had been.

THE LIGHTERS

for my mother

In her eighty-ninth year she’s reducing
her inventory—china to the children, mementos
to the trash—but in her boudoir
keeps half a dozen square-shouldered Zippos,

on one her husband’s initials,
the best man’s on another, the rest anyone’s guess.
Dry-chambered, their rusted spark wheels stalled,
they are lined up gravely on a jewelry chest

full of antique gap-toothed keys with elaborate
scrollwork on their hilts, fit to open
high-backed steamer trunks, perhaps the door
to a sunken garden

where every night the dry-bones come
in mothballed flannels and hand-knit sweaters
to roll their own, light up
like fireflies and, sotto voce, remember her.

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