“Velvet Rodeo” by Kelly McQuain (Reviewed)

Velvet Rodeo by Kelly McQuain
Velvet Rodeo by Kelly McQuain

Velvet Rodeo
by Kelly McQuain
Bloom chapbook series

Reviewed by Valerie Fox.

Velvet Rodeo won the 2013 Bloom chapbook contest. It was selected by C. Dale Young. For more information, visit http://bloomliteraryjournal.org.

Coming of age, finding identity, negotiating family relationships; these themes are all here, explored through Kelly McQuain’s characteristic precise description and formal attentiveness.

“Creation Myth” is a sweeping and ambitious exploration of a time and a place. We can see the narrator’s young parents as they court, and the young poet himself “drawing pictures of Superman/on the back of empty envelopes” in his small town West Virginia church.  McQuain’s observations of his small town beginnings put me in mind of seeing people through the Trailways bus windows when I was coming or leaving home during my own college years. There’s a respect for family here, a sensitivity for how even those (like a prejudiced grandfather, in “Southern Heat”) who lack self-awareness, are products of their environments and stories—they are complicated. All may connect with “Creation Myth” and other poems in this vein because we all have similar questions about our personal origins. What was he (father, brother, self) like? Why are we (siblings) the same, or different?

McQuain’s hard-boiled observations of travellers are amongst my favorites here. In “Alien Boy” and “The Absinthe Drinker,” he confidently puts himself in the scenes giving us the kind of exciting feeling of travelling (and eavesdropping).  “A Man in the Station Bar Makes Me Miss My Train” is a clever, Queneau-esque exercise in style (write a poem including as many names of drinks and liquors as possible) and also a reverie on youthful attempts to break out and be bad.

As a whole, the collection is thoughtful and deep. The lyrical and narrative modes are wonderfully blended, like the concoctions in “A Man in the Station Bar.”


Posted as part of the Savvy Verse and Wit Dive into Poetry Challenge (Book 3)



Join Us at MRAC on November 3rd

Celebrating Poems for the Writing at
Manayunk Roxborough Art Center

PLACE: Manayunk Roxborough Art Center
419 Green Lane, (rear)
Philadelphia, PA 19128

TIME: Sunday, November 3rd

Manayunk Roxborough Art Center located at 419 Green Lane (rear) in Philadelphia is offering a special humanities program: Poems for the Sharing: Celebrating Poems for the Writing. Join Lynn Levin and Valerie Fox on November 3rd, 3:15-5:30 for a reception and reading featuring Dawn Manning, Don Riggs, Luray Gross, Chris Cunningham, and Kelly McQuain (as well as Levin and Fox).

All of these poets are contributors to the craft-book Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013). Copies of the book will be available at a discounted price. Do join us in the spirit of community and collaboration.

This event is hosted by Peter Krok, Manayunk Roxborough Art Center’s Humanities Director and editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal.  The literary series has been on-going at the MRAC since 1990.

$5 Donation requested. Refreshments will be provided. Phone:  215-482-3363


CHRIS CUNNINGHAM was educated at Stanford University and Duke University, where he received a Ph.D. in modern American poetry. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Slate, Iowa Review, Cincinnati Review, Southwest Review, MQR, and elsewhere. He is the Dean of Faculty at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two children.

VALERIE FOX’S books include The Rorschach Factory (Straw Gate Books) and The Glass Book (Texture Press). She has published writing in Hanging Loose, West Branch, Admit2, Ping Pong, qarrtsiluni, Sentence, Apiary, and other journals. She has taught writing and literature at numerous universities including Sophia University (in Tokyo) and, most recently, at Drexel.

Poet and storyteller LURAY GROSS is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently The Perfection of Zeros, published by Word Tech. She has worked with thousands of students and teachers during her twenty-some years as a Teaching Artist. Known for her energetic and sensitive teaching style, she believes that creative expression is vital to our lives. She was awarded a Fellowship in Poetry by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and named one of their Distinguished Teaching Artists.

LYNN LEVIN is the author of the poetry collections Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press); Fair Creatures of an Hour (Loonfeather Press), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in poetry; Imaginarium (Loonfeather Press), a finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award; and, A Few Questions about Paradise (Loonfeather Press). A literary translator, she translates the work of Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales. She teaches at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

KELLY MCQUAIN grew up surrounded by the mountains of West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. His poetry has appeared on National Public Radio and in such venues as Painted Bride Quarterly, Assaracus, Paper Nautilus, Mead, American Writing and the anthologies Poems for the Writing and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. His fiction has appeared in such journals as Icarus, The James White Review,and The Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly. His columns on city life appear in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

DAWN MANNING is a writer, photographer, and rogue anthropologist living in the Greater Philadelphia area. Her poetry has won the San Miguel Writing Contest and placed second in the 81st Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition for non-rhyming poetry. She has also received the Edith Garlow Poetry Prize. Her poems have recently been published in American Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Fairy Tale Review, and other literary journals. Dawn herds cats for a local animal rescue, Animal Friends of Lansdowne. You can also find her through Poetdelphia, a community of writers who host a quarterly literary salon, or at dawnmanning.com.

Poet, essayist, and artist DON RIGGS has been writing 140 syllables each morning for the past decade, approximately. Sometimes he writes 280 syllables, and sometimes that turns into 420. All the prose that he sticks in between each clump of 120 syllables in his regular column (for the magazine Press 1) is filler, what they call a “vamp” in the music biz, to let the reader relax and recuperate energy for the next onslaught of concentrated energy. He also teaches writing at Drexel University. He illustrated and also contributed numerous poems to Poems for the Writing.

Kelly McQuain (on cinquain exercise)

All semester I have been hammering in the notion to use image, image, image to convey ideas in my students’ writing projects. Today we used the cinquain exercise in my creative writing class. The adherence to syllabics forced them to prioritize image and to be concise. I am looking forward to using more exercises soon. –Kelly McQuain, Associate Professor of English, Community College of Philadelphia