Tag Archives: Killing the Murnion Dogs

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Joe Wilkins

Rain Ghazal

We drive south out of Memphis, dark shoulders of rain
behind us. Now we turn west, towards the river, into rain.

The setting sun tumbles like a drunk through the trees,
and an old man fishing the bank lifts his face to rain.

I sit on the porch, sip whiskey from a jam jar, listen
for tree frogs and cicadas, for the lick of wind through rain.

Church Street is flooded. Don’t try to drive it—it’ll knock
your spark out. Road of dirty water, outrage of rain.

It comes down like rusty buckets, stumps, bricks. In the morning,
she lifts herself from the dark water of dreams, but still it rains.

Wind shakes pecans from the dark trees. Before dawn,
we wake and gather them in the fog, a gray wool of rain

The soybeans drowned. The wheat rotted at the roots.
But green stalks swell between the dikes: rice loves rain.

A man holds a sopping bag over his head. Near the bayou,
a boy pulls off his shoes, his shirt, runs lazy eights of rain.

They wake in the dark, the heat of their sleep between them.
She swings her hips over his with the clatter of rain.

The road’s a sudden river, trees thunder with dripping,
the sky no longer belongs to itself. All the world is rain.

Poem first appeared in Crab Orchard Review 14.1 (2009).

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I have two small children, so waking early isn’t a problem at all. Once the kids are out the door, I sit with a cup of coffee and do a little journaling, just get down some things I’ve been thinking about, things I’ve noticed in the last few days, a bit of language playing in my head. Then, I flip open the laptop and get to work on whatever projects seems most exciting at the moment. I get distracted easily and always like to have a couple poems and an essay or story and one longer project going at once, which means, of course, that any single piece often takes months or even years to be finished. I think, though, that that time allows me some necessary, in-process reflection. At least I hope it does!

Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: We live in a time of such abundance in poetry! There’s so many wonderful writers working and being published; it’s an exciting time to be a reader. In the last year I’ve discovered a number of new-ish poets—Traci Brimhall, Kate Northrup, and Lisa Fay Coutley, to name a few—whose work I just love. And I’ve been spending lots of time with Auden’s and Li-Young Lee’s as well.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: Let’s say a little cabin above the Selway River of Idaho.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward, winner of the 17th Annual White Pine Press Poetry Prize, and Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in north Iowa.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Joe Wilkins

Memphis Closes Her Eyes

Friday, and I need a drink, something strong
because it’s rice harvest, so much dust, steel,
and sun. A boy throws sticks to a dog twisting
in the street. I’m working too damn hard.

Mr. Lake, my next door neighbor, an easy hundred,
oldest of seven dead brothers, trembles to stand
like grass in the wind, is waiting in my driveway
to tell me Johnny Cash, like each of his brothers,

is dead. So I drive to Memphis. Let bourbon
roar down my throat. Watch chaff fires burn
like gods as the sun goes down. Then I’m walking
Union Avenue—drunks and lunatics and bits

of paper drift across the street. A man holds
a cigarette to his lips. Blue neon lights in the gray
of his eyes—and I know there is a song for all of this,
something hard and wild, black as night, and rising.

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

A: I gave up my office when our daughter was born last month, so I write now from our dining room, which is actually wonderful. I’m right in the thick of things: the early light pouring through the front windows, my son giving his doll dumptruck rides, the teakettle snapping on the stove.

Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?

A: For a number of years in undergrad I tried very hard to like T. S. Eliot. I thought all that high-minded bluster was what poetry just had to be. But in my senior year, in my first poetry workshop, I found James Wright—“As I Step Over a Puddle at the End of Winter, I Think of an Ancient Chinese Governor,” “The Minneapolis Poem,” “Northern Pike”—and fell in love.

Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?

A: Two things: First, my son is suddenly little person; he talks and laughs and reads his books; we put on the Old Crow Medicine Show and have a family dance party in the kitchen. Second, my daughter was born, and everything shifts and turns again.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir-in-fragments, The Mountain, the Fathers (Counterpoint 2012) and a collection of poems, Killing the Murnion Dogs (Black Lawrence Press 2011). His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in the Georgia Review, the Southern Review, Harvard Review, the Sun, Orion, and Slate, among other magazines and literary journals. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter on the north Iowa prairie, where he teaches writing at Waldorf College.

New Poets of the American West

Earlier this month Many Voice Press published New Poets of the American West, an impressive 550 page volume. We’re honored that Black Lawrence Press poet Joe Wilkins’ poem “Highway” was included in the anthology. “Highway” will also appear in Killing the Murnion Dogs, Joe’s full-length collection that is forthcoming from BLP.

New Poets of the American West is available from Amazon.


“Leviathan”, a poem by Joe Wilkins has been published by Linebreak. You can read it here. Joe’s full-length collection Killing the Murnion Dogs is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Joe Wilkins


Maybe you came here to read
the local news—obituary,

obituary, barn raising—but became
distracted by the boys playing Pac-Man

in the back hall with that reckless,
sixteen-year-old joy, and you

were a small boat drifting back
a muddy river of years. Or maybe

you have driven thousands of miles,
your father dead three states away,

but all you can think about is how
you’ll never make love again

to that girl you knew in high school,
and you miss her small shoulders

and the way she smelled of apples,
so you order a slice of pie

and with that first hot forkful
you know, no matter what,

you can keep driving. Maybe
you come here every day,

because here every day is the same
and you love that above all things,

as your days are most times hard
and wrong and wrapping your cracked

hands around a cup of milky coffee
is the best thing you know.

Maybe you are poor but Vera keeps
the toast coming all afternoon.

Maybe you are not so poor.
Maybe the world is like that

and there is nothing you can do.
Maybe this is your life—

corned-beef sandwich, fries,
one thin, bright slice of orange.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I have a very clear memory of drafting this poem in my second-floor office (and when I say second-floor office, read low-ceiling-ed, half-carpeted, hot, dusty attic) in Moscow, Idaho, a pile of English comp papers waiting to be graded and me wishing I was out on the road.

The moment the poem describes grew out of a road trip my wife and I took earlier that summer. We’d been driving Iowa all day, looking for a slice of that apple pie Kerouac crowed so about. I don’t know that we ever did get any pie, but near evening we found a great little café/bar somewhere along highway 20 and spent a good few hours drinking coffee with the locals.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Though it’s been a while since I first ran across it, every time I go to Michael McGriff’s Dismantling the Hills I can’t decide whether I need to read all night or write all night. Just a stunning book.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: My wife and I used to spend as much of the Idaho summer as we could along the Selway River, where we’d hike and fish the inlet creeks as long as we had daylight. I remember a meal we cooked one evening on cast iron over the fire: cutthroat trout dusted with cornmeal and fried in bacon grease, hoecake, slices of onion and tomato, and cold Full Sail IPA. Oh man

Joe Wilkins is the author of the poetry collection Killing the Murnion Dogs, available from Black Lawrence Press in 2011.

Joe Wilkins wins Memoir (and)’s Grand Prize

Congratulations to Joe Wilkins for winning Memoir (and)‘s Grand Prize for excellence in poetry. His winning poems, “Anniversary” and “Oblivion” will appear in Issue 6 of Memoir (and). You can find more information about the magazine and the contest here.

Black Lawrence Press will publish Joe’s full-length collection Killing the Murnion Dogs in 2011.

BLP Accepts Joe Wilkins’ “Killing the Murnion Dogs” for Publication

Black Lawrence Press has accepted Killing the Murnion Dogs, a collection of poems by Joe Wilkins, for publication.

Joe Wilkins was born and raised north of the Bull Mountains of eastern Montana and lives now with his wife and son on the north Iowa prairie, where he teaches writing at Waldorf College. He is the author of the poetry chapbook Ragged Point Road (Main Street Rag 2006), and his poems, essays, and stories appear in the Georgia Review, the Southern ReviewNorthwest Review, the Sun, OrionSlate, and Best New Poets, among other magazines and literary journals. His work has won Boulevard Magazine’s Emerging Poets Contest and the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers, and he is the 2009 recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center, which goes to “a promising new journalist or essayist whose work combines warmth, humor, wisdom and concern with social justice.”

Killing the Murnion Dogs will be available in mid-2o11.