Antrim House is pleased to announce the publication of Rennie McQuilkin’s ninth collection of poetry, First & Last. The book focuses first on the joys, anxieties and terrors of childhood and adolescence, then on the ways in which elders return to their youth in a variety of ways, both controlled and uncontrolled.

Richard Wilbur calls McQuilkin’s poems “pungently exact about the properties of the real world.” And David Bottoms has written that “Rennie McQuilkin is a poet with an extraordinary eye... He looks at the hard questions of the world, never flinching, and translates them with a clarity that is rare in American poetry today.” Dick Allen agrees: “He has a voice unlike that of any other contemporary poet... McQuilkin speaks from us and with us in a language so devoid of all rhetoric it is pure American: the natural man is lifted out of himself almost beyond his knowing. My response is one of pure thanks.”

Rennie McQuilkin’s poetry has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, Poetry, and The American Scholar. He is the author of nine books, two of which have won awards—the Swallow’s Tale Poetry Prize for We All Fall Down and the Texas Review Chapbook Prize for An Astonishment and an Hissing. McQuilkin has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and for many years he directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, which he co-founded at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. In 2003 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Center for the Book.

Read some sample poems from the book.


ISBN 0-9770633-2-1
Length: 72 pages, paperback


$17.00US per book

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Tax for CT residents: 6%


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Antrim House, PO Box 111, Tariffville, CT 06070


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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.


Slowly, each flake discrete, a calligraph,
the snow descends on Kyoto,
The sky is a scroll,
its characters spelling the many names
of Buddha. 

In this garden of the geishas, the snow
on japonica, laurel and stone
is elaborated
by the day’s last sun, like the youngest geisha
adorned for song, for dance

and pleasures more expensive.
Her face, glazed white,
is deftly painted, kimono tied like a flower,
outlining her nape in red,
revealing the slightest hint of down.

In half an hour the paper lanterns will glow,
the plump-breasted plover on each
an invitation
to the narrow lane of Pontocho.
Half an hour and the shamisen will sound,

the feast begin. Now, she walks the garden,
its pattern blurred by the bright disguise
of snow. Beneath a pretty toy bridge
glide pinioned ducks like polished
courtesans in jade and coral and ivory.

As if to bow, she bends down 
to roll a seed of snow
until it is fruit, white fruit.
It grows, unveils the grounds of the garden
where only a year ago she was a novice, 

drank saki from the triple cup of love,
wore on her feet the bells
to which her hair, unbound at night,
fell softly as the lavender sleeves
of her kimono. 

The dark descends,
the snow fruit glows, and above it
a full-faced moon, glazed white,
leaves the world behind. Far off,
a temple bell. And the shamisen sounds.


for Dick Witte

It’s only glass
I’ve broken. Mother goes on
licking a thread, pushing it at the eye,
face bunching like a club,
then heaves out of her chair and begins

to hit me
with a magazine, and when that shreds,
with her fists.

I can’t forgive my father
for hiding
behind the paper, a big man twice
her size. As usual, he lets her happen,

doesn’t say a thing.
She does the talking in that house.
My father is her cross, she says.
I can’t forgive him
for not knowing better  

and hide in the shed among the tools.
Today, he comes for me, has nothing
to say, just shows me
to the car. We reach the river,

and in the trunk beside his rod
I find a brand new Heddon Tru-flex

with a Shakespeare reel. From his coat
he pulls a Green Ghost,
Orange McKenzie, Royal Coachman.

How delicately, with a huge hand
battered and missing a finger, he threads
the silk through the shining eyes.

All afternoon we work the trout.
The only sounds
are those that slowly grow used to us

and the high song, long whisper
of lines.

First his, then mine, then sometimes
together, the lines arch out, and settle
exactly where we want them.

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