In this second edition of North Northeast, Rennie and Sarah McQuilkin have added new poems and drawings to a work rich in rural New England scenes and characters, both animal and human. Much of the book is set on or around the McQuilkins’ farm in Simsbury, Connecticut. Richard Wilbur has praised the work in this new edition, which is a much expanded version of the 1985 original: “These poems are spare yet warm-hearted and admirably accurate. Everywhere in this charming book you will find exact words, and a honed sense of the New England region — its fields and bogs, its structures, its fairs and pageants, its workers, its summer shores. And the illustrative drawings by Sarah McQuilkin are exquisite."

North Northeast speaks of old New England: Leslie Dewey and his flower farm, Carrie Wolf and her tar paper shack, ice-harvesting in winter, a woodstove’s “gossiping.” Rennie & Sarah McQuilkin bring it all to us in the spare, clear images of a Wyeth. For thirty-four years the McQuilkins have lived on a small farm in Simsbury, Connecticut. For many of those years they bred sheep in a pasture they fenced themselves, and kept hogs in a pen behind the large barn adjoining their colonial farmhouse. They now tend to no animals other than Hobo the cat and a rare assortment of frogs in the bog out back, but they still delight in the occasional bear that wanders by and the tom turkey’s spring mating display along the edge of the northwestern woods. Also frequenting the pages of this new edition are the three children who grew up on the farm: Eleanor, Sarah and Robin. They and their children are an ongoing joy to Sarah and Rennie. All share the artistic gift that led to the delightful pen-and-ink drawings in North Northeast.

About the 1985 edition of North Northeast, Dick Allen wrote, “These poems hold us–stock still, making us react to what we may have observed but not realized before: a defunct tobacco barn, an abandoned greenhouse, a man who collects thousands of bones, grapes with ‘misty skin like a mooning lover’s eyes.’” Allen noted that “In Wyeth,” his favorite poem from the book, contains Rennie McQuilkin’s poetic credo:

..The art is to suggest, not say,
until we see
not precisely the old man’s dory
scrubbed and caulked,
its bow line neatly coiled
in the bone-dry loft of a barn

and not precisely loss, or all
that makes loss
gain, but something like
all three.

“What appeals to me most about this book, I think,” commented Constance Carrier, “is the directness of the language and of the imagery, a directness with overtones that echo...the people are drawn as simply as figures in a primitive painting, but the hand that drew them is skilled and sensitive, leaving out only the extraneous.”

Click here to read five sample poems.


ISBN: ISBN 978-0-9770633-3-8
136 pages
Binding: 6" x 9" trade paperback



Fresh from the elegant park at Coole
and the Celtic crosses of County Mayo,
more at home in that other world
than here at Scrubby Neck, 

I hear them again, close overhead,
see their crossing: the black swans,
necks stretching for the Gayhead cliffs,
wings whistling this  This,  this  This.


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.


It’s that time of year,
the hedgerows hung with bittersweet.
Potato time.

How early the freeze, I’d say
if we were speaking.  We’re not.
We turn our spading forks against

the earth.  It’s stiff,
the Reds and Idahos hard as stone,
a total loss.

Once it was us against the beetles,
blight, whatever was not potato.
How they flowered, rows and rows

in white.  Now look.
We give it one last try, and there
far down in softer soil,

a seam of them, still perfect.
One after another
we hold them up to the dying day, 

kneel down to sift for more.
In the dark of earth, I come upon
your hand, you mine.


I am too old. All the more reason to love,
from a field, flood plain and river away,
the syncopated cadence of the drums,
ground of the bass, wordless wail of rock

at the strobe-lit dance of a summer school
on its bluff across the Farmington – love
how the music comes, goes and comes again
in the currents of a cooling night,

how it matches the fireflies sparking over
the smartweed, vetch and ryegrass
of a spring-fed field and among the small
moon-struck willow leaves,

the fireflies flashing like an amplifier’s
green golds, each of them a separate beat,
each signaling

I am
the one, and each one right – like the stars
in that other dance overhead, whose fires
flare up and fade and flare again..



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