“Spiritual” and “A Prayer” tread new ground in the book’s final pages, and these lines feel both appropriate to the book as a whole and the particular, engaging aesthetic cultivated throughout: “But even in this joy I know enough / of pain and shame to say that’s all wrong: No one / deserves this world.”
Violence–even sometimes brutality–may be an integral part of the world Wilkins creates, but there is room for tenderness, too. In “A Prayer,” an expansive, Whitman-esque poem that closes the collection, the poet turns his unflinching eye on the people who populate his poems, men who “water the sodden garden of themselves / with liquor” and women “nailing / themselves to the rough-cut boards of their husbands.” While these portraits are not necessarily flattering, there is an undertone of admiration in every line: he celebrates these people because of what they’re willing to endure in the hostile Western environment, and the poem is all the more moving because he seemingly counts himself among the people he describes. “A Prayer,” like the other poems in Killing the Murnion Dogs, is ultimately a kind of love poem, albeit a complex and sometimes disturbing one.
At his best, Wilkins recalls the rural flavor of Wendell Berry, but in a world all his own. Read him. This is your life; wrap your cracked hands around this book.
Killing the Murnion Dogs, my first full-length book of poems, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in August of this year. We’ve been working on the cover, and I’ve pasted the final below, along with some advanced reviews:
“Joe Wilkins has a big, true, highway-running American voice. He remains one of my favorite young poets working today. When you see a new book of his, you should celebrate. Like this one. Just buy it, put down the window, and let the music blow back your hair. It’s nothing but alive.”
–Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway and The Fever of Being
“In Killing the Murnion Dogs, the old lonelinesses, bodied forth by whisky in jam jars and rotting porches, highways, wolves, the dream of escape, are reinhabited and updated by Joe Wilkins’ own urgent interrogations – most notably: where is home, and why is memory so heartbreakingly incomplete? Tending the spirits of Richard Hugo and James Wright, master chroniclers of sad towns and desperate cities, these patient, vulnerable, angry and unapologetically Romantic poems are helplessly tender toward ruin, and full of stubborn belief in the beauty that can be coaxed from desolation. ”
–Lia Purpura, author of On Looking and King Baby
Not many poets address the American “interior” with the skill and insight Joe Wilkins displays in Killing the Murnion Dogs. I mean interior in both senses: Wilkins does a wonderful job evoking hardscrabble landscapes of Montana buttes and Mississippi cotton fields, sunflowers and coyotes, okra casseroles and rust-gutted Chevies. But his deeper subject is the lives of the farmers and ranchers who inhabit that land, lives he illuminates with gritty authority and boundless compassion. This is a first book wise beyond its years.
–Campbell McGrath, author of Spring Comes to Chicago and The Florida Poems
“These poems examine what and how we perceive and remember, the source, substance, and journey of our time on this earth. My favorite poem in the collection may be “Outside a Liquor Store in South Memphis” which is lush, vivid, itchy and full of white space. I’m grateful for the pulse and heat of all of these poems, and to Joe Wilkins for providing the language, nerve, heart and invitation to go with him, from the opening rain spell to the last lines of the final poem, “Prayer”: ‘Oh this dust/ here is the good north pasture and this dust here is home.'”
–Rebecca Wee, author of Uncertain Grace
My author page for Killing the Murnion Dogs is up at Black Lawrence Press!