Rennie McQuilkin’s eighth collection of poetry, Getting Religion, focuses on the resilience, generosity, and exuberance of the human spirit, while not overlooking the cruelty and stupidity of which mankind is capable. It pays homage to the animal world and ends with poems suggesting that humankind’s best hope for immortality may be through reintegration with the world of nature.

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 0-9770633-0-5
Length: 96 pages, paperback






In come the wrecks to Mark’s
and out the gear knobs, gas tanks,
radiators, speakers, mufflers.
Bins of parts.

The crummiest clunker is worth
Mark’s while. There’s an avenue
of front ends--Beetles, Buicks, Jags,
a ’49 Nash,

an alley of chassis,
a park of gutted bodies piled on
one another like lovers. Everything has
a future.

All of which is very gratifying, a sign
of what we’ll amount to
in the after time.

The loosestrife will take this, frogs
that, the earth will value
our humus, the cardinal put us to use.
Dismantled, we’ll go far.


After your first chemo we head for the shore
where summer after summer you danced
from Green Hill to Galilee before your fortune
turned to bearing, raising, then this.

At dead low we reach the rock-cobbled mudflat
at Matunuck, discover the mussels have vanished,
even the smallest hacked off by lubbers
from shacks and RV’s multiplying extravagantly.

In the heat of late afternoon, we wait out
low tide, give the surf — and surfers, if any
are left — time to cycle in where boulders begin
to heave the sea to rip-curls.

And there they are, as ever, with neon boards,
balancing, balancing, riding the crest above
the dark below.
We concentrate on the art of it.


with Sister Marie Modeste most afternoons.
Today, because of lengthy vespers, they are late.
A pale moon has already risen and early bats
are darting like black shuttlecocks.

Except for the whisper of wings
and the Sisters’ hushed encouragement,
the only sounds are the plinking of rackets
and a monotone of mourning doves.

On all sides of the court
the sculpted yew in cubes and columns
might pass for black so deeply green it grows.
And now it moves closer,

Marie Angelica would say,
who has been known to have visions.
Though she moves as aptly as the bats,
doesn’t miss a shot,

when she fades for a long one
from Marie Modeste, sways on her toes, arches
her back, raises one arm
and the other to keep her difficult balance, 

she is lost, a long-legged girl again
in mare’s tail, mullein, milkweed,
leaning on the sudden sky as if it will sustain her
like a hand in the small of her back. It does.

Her nerve ends quick as a shiver of poplar,
arms like branches in a wind,
she feels a cry begin
to rise, to force the self before it

and burst, all colors one. That white.
It vaults straight up, a feathered cry
that hovers in the heart of heaven, hovers,
and plummets to the gut

of the racket she sights it in,
the perfect bird, the shuttlecock
Marie Angelica keeps in play, will not let fall
despite the darkness gathering. 


All night beneath the stately turn
of the slooped and schoonered sky,
they rode the star-filled swells

expensively, their halyards chiming,
that now are under jib and spinnaker.
From this hill, this humming top,

it might be ivory queens, bishops,
kings, gowns billowing
who make their cryptic moves

across the mottled bay.
Overhead, a skein of swans,
wings working up the air to whistle,

and this for heraldry—
a blue and silver kite, an osprey,
a redtail rounding out

the sky. How hard to believe
in anything
less heavenly. But there it is,

the dive, direct hit of the hawk
and sudden tangent
to the nest,

that innerspring of rabbit rib,
shrew skin, quail down,
fox fur.

As for the yachts, the swift
white yachts—
how many among us

must be taken, bone and gut,
that these may be
so sleek?


When I heard the news, mother, I thought to
call you to make it real, hear you yelp
as I did
when I was told The Lord God Bird is back,  

no longer extinct, forgetting, as ever, that you are.
Extinct, that is.
I’m always brought up short by the news.
How? There was so much of you—like the Ivory Billed

 that feasted on Death itself,
tearing the rotten bark off stricken trees
with that box-cutter beak, eating its weight in beetles.
Too much to disappear, I thought,

 and yes,
there it is, they say, still sounding off like
a factory whistle—Work, work,
the day has come—still excavating caves in deadwood,

 still flashing red, white and black
through the gloom of old-growth bogs.
And you, mother—
oh Lord God how you come and go in the dismal dark!  

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