In questioning the boundaries between the world and oneself, Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers unflinchingly explores the dark eddies of coming of age and coming out. Kelly McQuain’s poems are far roaming in setting and far ranging in style, depicting the richness of a rural West Virginia upbringing as well as contemporary adulthood in the big city and abroad. Glints of humor and glimpses of pathos abound in the imaginative leaps these poems take as they tackle such subjects as LGBTQ sexuality, homophobia, domestic abuse, and racism. Unafraid to push the limits of contemporary sonics, McQuain’s work is rich in music and varied in form, with new riffs on the sonnet, the villanelle, and the persona poem. Accessible and lyrical, this debut collection deftly explores the homes we come from and the homes we create—all the while shining with wonder and resolve. Several of the poems won contests including the Bloom chapbook prize, the Glitter Bomb Award, Best New Poets 2000.
The TRP Southern Poetry Breakthrough Series: West Virginia
About the Author
KELLY MCQUAIN grew up in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia and is the author of two previous chapbooks, Velvet Rodeo (winner of the Bloom Award) and Antlers. His poetry has appeared in Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, The Pinch, Kestrel, Appalachian Review, and in numerous anthologies. Also an artist, McQuain’s paintings have appeared in books, journals, magazines and galleries. He currently works as a professor of English in Philadelphia.
“Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers travels wondrously over verdant hills and down bustling city streets to find what matters: the gorgeous love, the all-consuming desire, the joy of human touch. This collection sings, pounds, and shouts. McQuain’s keen eye and sharp words command us to stop and see. Scrape the Velvet is a treat of a book, rendered by a man at the peak of his craft.”—Jonathan Corcoran, author of The Rope Swing
“In Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers, maturity is shown as a toughening process, a paring away of uncertainty. In the West Virginia of his childhood, McQuain finds himself a young gay man struggling against an alien and discriminatory culture. In elegant poems, so much of a place and time, he goes from the boy eager to please an exacting father intent on building a house, to the Good Samaritan in the big city where he has landed, stopping in traffic to talk a would-be suicide down from a bridge. In lyrical lines that stretch out where they need to, never losing momentum, he blends a Keatsian sweetness with the street smarts of a Frank O’Hara. ‘As you take the hill, the hill takes you.’ It is ‘stubbled with stubborn flowers,’ the deer he views, ‘a blister of orange-red and velvet need.’ And in the lush final poem, the simple feast of Italian ices from a South Philly vendor that the poet shares in bed with his lover one hot summer night he rightly names ‘this moment/ a victory.’”—Elaine Terranvova, author of The Diamond Cutter’s Daughter: a Poet’s Memoir and Damages.
“‘[H]ow easily the things we do go awry— / what can we // expect of truth / when we don’t dig for proof / or plumb its depth?’ And digging for truth is what Kelly McQuain does in poem after beautiful poem in his moving collection Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers. The speaker in this book knows deeply the language of rural landscape and lives in the space where landscape and body merge. McQuain also understands grief and leaving, following the ‘[s]omething [that] calls you somewhere else.’ These are generous poems, ravenous to love a broken world. Whether McQuain’s speaker is at a circuit party or trying to talk down a man who wants to jump from a bridge, there is a through line of tenderness, a lived-in melancholy. His longing becomes our longing.”—Aaron Smith, author of The Book of Daniel
“Kelly McQuain’s language—exact, thrilling, exquisite—isolates the contradictions inherent in family, in our society. Queerness, here, is an ‘ache of wanting’ but also bewilderment, dangerous, messy, curious, and, finally, hard-won love—a bond to a man who brings home strawberries. Too often, in our era of easy oversharing and spectacle, we scroll past human utterances. But McQuain’s confessional poems stopped me in my tracks, brought me closer to what divides us, to what tethers us.”—Eduardo C. Corral, author of Guillotin