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Poets of the Monterey Bay

cover In Here

Poetry and Short Prose: 2000-2002

Joseph Keller McNeilly

Illustrations by Ian Patrick McNeilly


Joseph Keller McNeilly’s In Here is the realization of an extraordinary poetry project:  96 poems written in 22 months, complimented by 13 drawings by the poet and 36 drawings by his 16-year-old son, Ian McNeilly, yielding a book of 384 pages.  The title speaks the project’s goal:  to record for his son the poet’s inner life as accurately and nakedly as possible.  The project is driven by the author’s knowledge that he suffers from a progressive, incurable illness.  Five great rivers run through these poems:  The violent abuse of his childhood and its physical and emotional scars, roused by the recent deaths of his parents; his physical illness and thus the prospect of death; his bipolar mental illness; his love for his wife; his love for his son.  McNeilly’s sharp intellect is fully engaged with everything in him and his world, but his emotions have full sway from recurrent tender and passionate love, loneliness and loss to black despair and rage.  His rhythm and sense of the line is firm, his language is alive and vivid—these poems are honed to a wonderful clarity.  Ian McNeilly’s drawings demonstrate a remarkable imaginative and expressive power.  This book is an act of love.  This book is a testament of courage.  This book is a cry for life.

Praise for In Here:

“Few poets I know have Joseph McNeilly’s talent, his rhythm, his ability to craft one singularly clear image after another and magically make the connection between Robert Duncan’s proverbial ‘porcupine and the concrete block’ appear light and obvious and natural.  Yet the poems within In Here do just that.  They literally resonate with McNeilly’s clear, moving, masculine voice, and echo his bravery as an artist to challenge the conventional ‘prettiness’ of poetry on a host of levels.  These poems reveal the passionate, unforgettable soul of a father, husband, lover, and teacher.  In Here is a work of art, a literary beacon reminding us all that the day is short, the night long, and the need is ever-pressing to be honest in our words, our lives, and our capacity to feel love.”
         —George Lober, author of Shift of Light

“Let the truth be told:  Joseph McNeilly ‘casts a cold eye’ on a brute world of chilling characters and confessions.  These poems don’t flinch; beware the squeamish.  But also, don’t be fooled.  In Here is, at its core, a book of astonishing love poems, fantastic songs and visions, remarkable wit, bold meditations, and hard-earned truths.
         The poet John Logan wrote to his adolescent son:  ‘wrestle/Manfully against the ancient curse of snakes,/The bitter mystery of love, and learn to bear/The burden of the tenderness/That is hid in us.’  So in Joseph McNeilly’s poems we encounter dark, ancient curses, terrible wrestling—bitter mystery, a learning to bear—and always the surprise, the gorgeous burden—of tenderness.”
         —Ken Weisner, author of The Sacred Geometry of Pedestrians

Joseph Keller McNeilly was born in 1949 in LaGrange, Indiana.  In both tone and subject, much of his writing reflects the rural poverty of his childhood and his work-life connections to the Amish communities of Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan.  Following undergraduate studies in soil science and philosophy, Joseph received an MFA in Creative Writing in 1976 from the University of British Columbia.  From 1979-1984 he did doctoral work in The History of Consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Initially a playwright (five of his plays have been produced), in 1997 Joseph switched the focus of his writing to poetry prompted by a desire to establish a more intimate, personal connection to the audience.  His first book, Out Here: Poems, 1989-2000, was published in 2001 by Chatoyant Press.  In August 2002, Joseph released a CD of his poetry, Exalting the Risk: Poems of Love, Lust and Their Cousins, which includes several poems from this collection.  He has taught creative writing and literature to college students for twenty-five years.  Joseph lived primarily in Santa Cruz County, California from 1978 to 2003.  He and his wife now live in Kauai, Hawaii.

Ian Patrick McNeilly, 16, is the author’s son.  Proudly left-handed, Ian has been drawing from the moment he could grip a pencil.  Although he has had private showings on refrigerators in Colorado, Washington, Michigan and California, this is Ian’s first publishing credit, his first collaboration.  Born in Wenatchee, Washington, he has lived in Santa Cruz County, California since 1987.  Ian’s future plans include art school.

In Here by Joseph Keller McNeilly with illustrations by the author and Ian Patrick McNeilly. Released March 2003.
384 pages, paperback, $18, ISBN 0-9716373-2-6


Copyright 2003