Volume 8 (Fall 2014)

     In a time when lyric poetry often seems buried beneath an over-abundance of posturing and an irony that winks knowingly and has little at stake, Kelly McQuain's award-winning chapbook, Velvet Rodeo, published by Bloom Books, is a refreshing return to a lyric that risks sincerity, uncertainty, and the embrace of beauty. The poems range from childhood to adulthood, from a landscape of "knucklebone mountains" to a bar filled with "a house-mix of testosterone" and drag queens with "their butterfly eyes," the boy in one poem's rough burlap loincloth later the man who understands that "too long we have cyphered our desires."          

     Both in the poems themselves and in the collection, there is a tension between the outsider, the other, "the sting of difference's blisters" and the strumming of old men on banjos inside the house. The speaker in the poems is seeking the outdoors, its "hot ricochet of blue bottle flies," refusing to be "clothespinned," his body "an arrow shooting somewhere far off" into a different desire, a different landscape and language.

     The poems in the collection play with this language, often unexpectedly shifting and employing off-rhyme and other sonic effects to propel the reader forward.  In the poems that offer narratives, McQuain quickly and expertly sketches characters in a few vivid strokes. In a collection with a great deal of authority, the poems still, however, spring from inquiry:

     ...What if you never meet

     the person you are meant to be? The future

     is a cocked gun— pretty, but peacock mean

These questions of who you will be, who you once were, and the distance between the two, unifies the poems in this debut collection. The speakers in these poems know they are but "flotsam" in each new place, be it city, bar, or a language being learned. They know, like all good travelers do, "There is only the splintered heart of now," and in this, McQuain's strong and large-hearted book, that it is more than enough.

     – Suzanne Parker

Short-shot Review:

Velvet Rodeo by Kelly McQuain (Bloom, 2014)