Nineteen years ago, the English Department decided to enhance its already robust contemporary poetry curriculum by creating the Westminster Poetry Series. Every year, the department invites a major poet to visit Westminster for two or three days, usually in the spring. The entire school studies books of poems by the visiting poets, guaranteeing an especially knowledgeable audience, something all of the visiting writers have loved. A generous grant from former trustee Maureen Goldfarb and her daughter Kirsten Ford ’00 funds the series.
This year’s visiting poet — the 18th Westminster Poet — is Rennie McQuilkin. He lives in Simsbury right across the Farmington River from Williams Hill and will be on campus on Monday, April 16 and Tuesday, April 17. He will read to the entire school at 2:20 p.m. on Monday in the Werner Centennial Center. In addition, McQuilkin will be visiting with English classes during the academic day on Monday and Tuesday.
McQuilkin is currently in his second year as poet laureate for the State of Connecticut (he is also the poet laureate for the town of Simbury). He has long been a leading figure in the vibrant poetry scene in Connecticut. He was the founder and first director of the Hill-Stead Museum’s Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, one of the most successful poetry festivals in the country, and he is also the owner, editor and publisher of Antrim House Books, a small press devoted to publishing books by a wide variety of Connecticut poets, including former Westminster teacher Mollie Pilling and current Westminster teacher Michael Cervas.
McQuilkin is the author of 12 books of poems, and his poems have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Poetry, the Yale Review, and The American Scholar. He has received a lifetime achievement award from the Connecticut Center for the Book, and in 2010 his volume of new and collected poems “The Weathering” was awarded the center’s annual poetry prize under the aegis of the Library of Congress. McQuilkin began writing poems as a sixth grader at Allen Creek School in response to being kissed “on a dare” by a girl, and he’s been writing poems ever since.
The Irish poet Eamon Grennan has this to say about “The Weathering”: “Rennie McQuilkin offers poems of a grainy, poised, exacting honesty. There’s sort of Shaker furniture feel to their mix of plainness and grace. Grounded and unabashedly local as they are, these poems can yet be ‘at home in the sky’ and ‘in touch with everywhere,’ offering a deep reading of a truly examined life.”
According to poet Richard Wilbur, “Rennie McQuilkin’s poems are spare and accurate, and they have an unostentatious brilliance of structure, a seemingly offhand way of threading thought through their particulars.” Simple, honest, unpretentious, but surprisingly moving and profound, McQuillkin’s poems are easy to read and hard to forget.
Below are a few examples of his poems. The first poem turns an awkward encounter between a husband and a wife into a moment of rediscovered love. The second comes out of a scary experience McQuilkin had when he was teaching at Miss Porter’s School. And the third shows just how near to Westminster McQuilkin lives and lets all of us look forward to some more outdoor rock concerts on campus.